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Celebrating U.S. Female Fencers’ Historical Moments on International Women’s Day

03/08/2019, 11:30am CST
By Kristen Henneman

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – International Women’s Day is a day to honor women and their accomplishments as well as support working toward gender equality.

Today, March 8, in celebrating the 108th anniversary of International Women’s Day, we look back at 10 of the greatest achievements of our female fencers – moments that changed the sport and the expectations for women in fencing.

Mariel Zagunis Breaks Barriers with Olympic Gold

Mariel Zagunis (center) with teammates Sada Jacobson and Becca Ward after winning her second Olympic title in a 1-2-3 U.S. sweep.

From an alternate to the first Olympic Champion in women’s saber, Mariel Zagunis raised the bar for female fencing in 2004 when she won gold in Athens. The title marked the first time a female U.S. fencer brought home gold from an Olympic Games and was the first Olympic title since Albert Van Zo Post a century earlier. Zagunis went on to repeat in 2008, becoming the only woman ever to win two Olympic titles in women’s saber and leading a U.S. sweep of the podium with teammates Sada Jacobson and Becca Ward, who won silver and bronze. Today, the most decorated athlete in the history of USA Fencing is now a four-time Olympic medalist and continues to inspire women across the nation as she chases a fifth Olympic Team as a new mother.

Janice York Romary Sets U.S. Record with 10 National Championships

York-Romary (second from right) at the 1967 Pan American Games with Veronica Smith, Harriet King and Maxine Mitchell.

In the 18-year span between 1950 and 1968, Janice York Romary won an outstanding 10 National Championships, the most by any female fencer. York Romary also has set numerous firsts on the Olympic stage, becoming the first female from any country in any sport to compete at six Olympic Games. At her final Games in Mexico City in 1968 at the age of 41, York Romary was honored as being the first U.S. woman to carry the American flag. In addition, her performances in 1952 and 1956 when she finished fourth tied the mark for the highest result by a U.S. female fencer at the Olympic Games.

Women’s Foil Team Wins First Medal in 2008

Olympic silver medalists Erinn Smart, Hanna Thompson and Emily Cross.

Across the world in Beijing, Emily Cross, Hanna Thompson and Erinn Smart stunned the competition by winning silver in the team event, and in the process secured the first Olympic medal for women’s foil. Seeded seventh entering the competition, Team USA outtouched Poland, the defending World Champions, in the quarter-finals, 31-30, and edged out Hungary in the semis, 35-33, before losing to Russia in the final. The podium finish also marked the first Olympic medal in foil, men or women, since 1960 and the best team result since 1904.

Women’s Epee Team Stands on the Podium for the First Time in Olympic History

Olympic bronze medalists Courtney Hurley, Maya Lawrence, Susie Scanlan and Kelley Hurley.

At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the women’s epee team used a clutch performance to clinch the first medal for Team USA in a women’s epee event at the Senior World or Olympic level. Also the first epee team medal since 1932, Courtney Hurley, Kelley Hurley, Maya Lawrence and Susie Scanlan overcame Italy in the quarter-finals, 45-35, to advance to the medal rounds. Fencing in the bronze medal match after a loss to Korea, Team USA fenced a tight match with No. 2 Russia. Deadlocked at 30 at the end of regulation, anchor Courtney Hurley needed just 16 seconds to secure her team bronze and secure history for U.S. women’s epee.

Jane Eyre Dominates the Veteran World Championships

Jane Eyre has won seven Vet World titles.

A staple on the Veteran World Championship Team, Jane Eyre’s trophy case holds 16 total Vet World medals, the most of any U.S. fencer, male or female. Her 11 individual medals is tied for career most and her seven titles marks the most of any U.S. athlete. The 15-time Vet World Team member has won individual Vet World gold in five of the last six years, making her one of the most dominant fencers in the history of the Vet Worlds.

Ruth White Becomes First Female African-American to Represent Team USA at an Olympic Games

Ruth White (left) and NYFC coach Michel Alaux.

Feeling valued in fencing regardless of the color of her skin, Ruth White broke barriers for African-American fencers and became the first African-American female fencer to fence for the Red, White and Blue at the 1972 Olympic Games. She helped the U.S. women’s foil team to a seventh-place finish, the highest result by the team since the event was added to the Olympic program. In her buildup to the Games, White became the first African-American to win a National Championship in 1969 and in 1971 became the first U.S. fencer to reach the finals at the Junior World Championships.

Iris Zimmermann Claims Team USA’s first World Championship Medal

Iris Zimmermann after winning gold at the 1995 Cadet World Championships

Prior to 1995, no U.S. fencer of any weapon or age category had ever stood on the podium at a World Championships. Iris Zimmermann changed all that at just 14 years old as the U.S. flag was raised after her gold medal win at the Cadet World Championships. Four years later, she won individual bronze at the 1999 Senior World Championships, the first U.S. fencer to earn a medal at that event as well. She competed at the 2000 Olympic Games alongside her sister Felicia and added a team bronze medal to her resume at the 2001 World Championships alongside Felicia and teammates Ann Marsh and Erinn Smart. Today, Iris and Felicia continue to share their love of the sport with the next generation as the owners of Rochester Fencing Club.

Ibtihaj Muhammad Becomes First U.S. Athlete to Compete in a Hijab

Ibtihaj Muhammad competing at the 2016 Olympic Games.

When she first fenced In Rio in 2016, Ibtihaj Muhammed became the first U.S. athlete to compete in a hijab. Days later, she set another first, becoming the first American to win a medal competing in a hijab. Playing a key role for Team USA as the team earned bronze in the team event, Muhammad challenged stereotypes and broke boundaries for women everywhere. Since the Olympic Games, Muhammad was named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in 2016 and had a Barbie created in her likeness through Mattel’s Shero line, which is inspired by female icons.

Carol Hickey Wins First Wheelchair World Championship Medal

Carol Hickey won bronze at the 2002 Wheelchair World Championships.

A three-time Wheelchair World Championship Team member, Carol Hickey had her breakthrough moment in 2002 when she won bronze. It also was a historic moment for USA Fencing as she became the first wheelchair fencer – man or woman – to bring home hardware from a World Championships. Hickey also represented Team USA at two Paralympic Games, competing in foil and epee. Her fourth-place finish in Athens ties the mark for the best finish by a U.S. female fencer in Paralympic history.

Foil and Epee Teams Secure First Senior World Championship Titles

Women's Team Champions Foil (Top Row L-R): Nicole Ross, Margaret Lu, Nzingha Prescod and Lee Kiefer. Front Row (L-R): Courtney Hurley, Kat Holmes, Amanda Sirico and Kelley Hurley. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi.

At a Worlds that saw Team USA bring home its biggest medal haul in history with six, the 2018 U.S. Women’s Epee and Foil teams each contributed gold, the first for each squad at a World Championships and the fifth and sixth U.S. teams to stand on the podium at Worlds. Represented by Courtney Hurley, Kelley Hurley, Kat Holmes and Amanda Sirico, the women’s epee team, which earned its first World medal of any color with two clutch overtime wins, ended the season at No. 1 for the first time in history. The women’s foil squad had won silver in 2017, but Lee Kiefer, Nzingha Prescod, Nicole Ross and Margaret Lu dominated the competition in Wuxi with their smallest margin of victory being 10 points in the final.

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