LONDON — Mariel Zagunis, the top-ranked U.S. fencer who captured individual sabre gold in 2004 and 2008, was stunned in the semifinals of the London Games by Jiyeon Kim of Korea, ending Zagunis' quest for a three-peat.
Zagunis then lost to Olga Kharlan of Ukraine in the bronze-medal bout, leaving the event without a medal for the first time.
At one point, it looked like Zagunis would cruise to the finals.
Zagunis held a 12-5 lead at one point in the match, but watched Kim erode it with spectacular counter-attacks as the American star aggressively tried to close out the match. Kim won 10 of the last 11 points to advance to the gold-medal match, while Zagunis would fence for bronze against Olga Kharlan of Ukraine.
The match began with Zagunis, the U.S. flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremony, opening with three points in five seconds of the first round. Kim was overly aggressive.
But as the match progressed, it was Zagunis that forced the issue, with Kim exhibiting great defense, patience and picking apart the U.S. champion's attacks. Kim let out a loud celebration at 15-13, as Zagunis' run ended.
Zagunis had become the face of American fencing with her two straight medals in sabre, telling SFGate.com:
"When I started, it happened to be by chance. I feel like a lot of my teammates, the same thing happened. They stumbled upon it. Since Athens and on, I've met so many young girls who said, I started fencing because of you, which is so cool. That's never happened for U.S. fencing before. To have us have so much success, only in that small Olympic window, it makes a difference. It's so great to meet these kids who have started because of us. Now, to be the inspiration for the future of U.S. fencing is a really cool feeling."
Zagunis was the second American fencer to win a gold medal in the Summer Olympics back in Athens 2004; she's the only athlete to win individual sabre gold, as the event began eight years ago.
Said her teammate Dagmara Wozniak after the quarterfinals: "Her passion for the sport is amazing. She's fighting really hard not only defending her title, but just representing her country. She really loves this sport."
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