BEIJING The United States joined Italy and
France at the top of the fencing medals table at the Beijing
Olympics, finally challenging the traditional powers of the
sport after decades of obscurity.
The Americans had waited 100 years for a fencing gold when
Mariel Zagunis won the individual saber at the Athens Games.
She not only repeated that performance in Beijing, but her
teammates Sada Jacobson and Rebecca Ward won silver and bronze
as well as bronze in the team event.
With the women's foil and men's saber teams also winning
silver, the U.S. left Beijing with six fencing medals, more
than at any other Games.
"I started fencing because I saw Peter Westbrook win a
medal (saber bronze at the 1984 Games) and I wanted one for
myself," said Keeth Smart, who led the U.S. men to saber
silver. "Now maybe kids will see us and want their own medals
American fencers have benefited from an influx of coaches
from Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain and are
likely to remain a force to be reckoned with.
"We are in good shape," U.S. Olympic coach Ed Korfanty
said. "I don't think this is the end of the U.S. saber teams."
In women's foil, Italian Valentina Vezzali continued to
dominate the field and won a record third consecutive gold in
the individual event.
Including team events, she now has five Olympic golds, one
silver and one bronze and shows no signs of stopping at age 34.
"I could never lose my motivation, there are always new
records to reach," she said before the Games. "I don't think
I'm going to give up. I just want to reach London 2012."
Vezzali led an Italian team that also won the individual
epee gold through Matteo Tagliariol as well as five bronze
medals, overcoming the distraction of top-ranked foil fencer
Andrea Baldini's positive doping test just before the Olympics.
France retained its men's team saber and epee titles from
Athens, also winning silver in the men's individual events for
those weapons. It remains the country with the most fencing
medals in Olympic history with 115, one more than Italy.
China ended a 24-year fencing gold medal drought when Zhong
Man won the men's saber, but could only manage one other medal,
a silver in women's team saber.
The introduction of video replay in a sport that used to be
plagued by referee controversies was a success at the Games.
"People need to have confidence in our sport and also
understand what's going on," said Rene Roch, the president of
the International Fencing Federation.
The transparent mask, first introduced in Athens for saber,
was expanded to foil as fencing tried to broaden its appeal and
become more television-friendly.