Robert Zagunis: A 1976 Olympian in rowing, a proud father to fencing Olympian Mariel Zagunis

/ by Jamie Hudson
Presented By Toyota

As a 1976 Olympian in rowing, Robert Zagunis is a life member of both USA Fencing and US Rowing thanks to his Olympian daughter Mariel Zagunis.

While Robert recently reminisced about his Olympic experience, he couldn’t help but think about how much of an underdog his team was in the Montreal Olympic Games. 

“If you didn’t win the trials, you were not going to be on the team,” Zagunis said. “We were not expected to win and then we made it to the Finals and we had probably our best race ever to win the Finals and become the representative for the US at the games.”

While he now serves as a trustee and president of the United States Fencing Foundation, his Olympic priorities have now shifted to guiding his daughter, two-time Olympic Champion Mariel Zagunis.

Mariel is the most decorated fencer in the United States.

For Robert, witnessing his daughter’s greatness is now some of his fondest Olympic memories.


“When Mariel came in and just barely made the team in Athens in 2004 and she came in and basically took on all comers,” Zagunis said. “She would beat some of the best fencers in the world and ended up prevailing with a gold medal…

Which was remarkable because US fencing hadn’t had a gold medal in over 100 years.

Robert Zagunis

Robert gave the credit of Mariel’s success to his daughter.

“Every athlete and every parent is different,” Zagunis said. “I think the interaction between parent and young athlete is really a lot dependent on the personality and the makeup of the athlete. I think in my case with my daughter Mariel, she was very diligent and she did all the work necessary.”   

So for me, the guidelines or advice was fairly broad because I knew that she knew what had to be done and she had good coaching on top of that.

Robert Zagunis

This Summer’s Games in Tokyo, Mariel was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the saber event on Monday against one of her oldest rivals, Russian Olympic Committee team fencer Sofya Velikaya.

But we know Mariel’s work isn’t finished.

As she competes in her fifth Olympics this summer, the 2004 and 2008 champion still has another medal shot in the team event.