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Mariel Zagunis and Seth Kelsey, Place Fourth Dagmara Wozniak Finishes Eighth at the Olympic Games

08/01/2012, 10:46am CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

(London) – Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) and Seth Kelsey (Portland, Ore. / Colorado Springs, Colo.) have been teammates for three straight Olympic Games, but their experiences have been vastly different – until Wednesday when both athletes placed fourth.

Zagunis was defeated for the first time in her individual Olympic career and Kelsey earned his best individual result yet at the age of 30.

Poised for a three-peat as the only woman ever to win Olympic gold in women’s individual saber, Zagunis won her first two bouts against over Diah Permatasari (INA), 15-6, and Seira Nakayama (JPN), 15-9.

Zagunis held her quarter-final opponent to just six touches as well when she defeated Min Zhu (CHN), 15-6.

After a three-hour break, Zagunis returned to the evening final block where she breezed through her semifinal bout against Jiyeon Kim (KOR) whom she built 12-5 lead against.

Kim fought back, however, and scored 10 of the next 11 touches to upset Zagunis, 15-13. She went on to win gold.

“I was losing concentration and things started happening really quickly and I wasn’t landing my attacks and she all of a sudden was 12-10, 13-10, 13-13. Things just happened way too fast. I should have slown down my attacks. I should have slown down my entire bout. So it really was like I pretty much handed it to her. It was all my mistakes that cost me the bout… Everything happens so quickly and, of course, I wish I could turn back the clock right now and go back to 12-6 and kind of refocus myself and do it all over again, but that’s the thing with saber fencing. It happens so quickly,” Zagunis said.

As Kim continued to score touches on Zagunis, the American continued to fence aggressively, but couldn’t fend off Kim who was countering well throughout the bout.

“I was definitely getting impatient. You saw that in how many opportunities I had to push her down the strip and I still wasn’t able to land my attacks. I had some very good defensive actions, but she was very quick to remise and get me with some one light touches so I was just rushing it too quickly,” Zagunis said. “Maybe I was trying to finish the bout too quickly because I was up and I just wanted it to end. Like I said, I made a lot of tactical errors in my last two bouts. Unfortunately, I fenced very well earlier in the day and I’d hoped to carry that on towards the end.”

Zagunis blamed the loss on her own challenges with focusing during the bout.

“She didn’t beat me. I beat myself. That’s pretty much how my bouts I lose go. No matter whether it’s in season or the Olympics or the World Championships. If I lose, it’s not really that they were the better fencer, it’s that I was mentally not there because I know that when I’m mentally there I fence like I did in 2004 and 2008 and at the World Championships in 2009 and 2010. That’s me fencing ‘on’ and me fencing mentally well. When I’m on like that, nobody can beat me,” Zagunis said. “The other fencers are very strong fencers, but, in my opinion, I think that, if I was completely 100% on mentally than I would have been able to win again.”

The match-up marked the third time this season that Zagunis has fenced Kim, but the first lost for the American.  

“Kim is definitely a talented fencer. She’s had a lot of great results this season, but I’ve beat her many times and I’m not taking anything from her. Congrats. She’s going to get a medal today and I’m not so that says a lot for her fencing today. I’m just saying that, on any other given day, when I can be a little bit more on, a little bit more focused, it would have gone the other way,” Zagunis said.

While World Championships and World Cup events award a bronze medal to the loser of the semifinals, Zagunis was in the position of having to rebound from the loss to fence two-time individual World Championship silver medalist Olga Kharlan (UKR) for third place.

“It’s difficult having to pull yourself back together after losing. At all of our other tournaments, you don’t have to do that. If you lose in the semis, then you just get third by default, so I’ve never had to do that. I’ve never been in that position before so I tried to pull myself back together,” Zagunis said.

At the match break, Zagunis held an 8-6 lead, but Kharlan outscored Zagunis, 9-2, in the next period to win the bout, 15-10.

“I had a good first half with Kharlan and she’s also very mentally strong and wanted that medal as well, so, again, the second half was pretty lopsided as well,” Zagunis said.

Following the bout, Zagunis was still stunned when talking with reporters.

“I guess I’m just in disbelief. It’ll probably hit later on. I dunno when,” Zagunis said. “I was in disbelief when I lost that lead to Kim and lost that bout and now I don’t have a medal, so it’s just really strange because I’ve never been in this position before at the Olympics, so I guess I’m just in disbelief.”

Zagunis said she will take away valuable lessons from her fourth place result and is already looking ahead to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

“I tend look at my losses as learning experience and, unfortunately, that had to happen at the Olympics, but, of course, having the honor of carrying the flag started off the Games great and I was hoping to ride that wave and I felt like I was prepared,” Zagunis said. “I felt like I was ready to go and I was fencing really well all day until the 12-6, so, other than that, I’m just looking ahead to the next four years and learn from my mistakes. That’s all I can do.”

Zagunis said her focus now is on winning gold in Rio de Janeiro and enjoying the remainder of her Games experience in London.

“I think the only thing I can look forward to now is Rio. My chances here are done and now I can enjoy the rest of my time in London and go on from there. There’s nothing I can do about what happened here today. I just have to move on,” Zagunis said.

While Zagunis entered the Olympic Games as the top-ranked fencer in the world, Kelsey was not considered a favorite to medal in London and knew that he would have to beat some of the world’s top fencers well before the later rounds.

In the table of 32, Kelsey and Guojie Li (CHN) were tied at seven touches after three periods and Kelsey scored the eighth touch in sudden death overtime.

“You don’t normally see me celebrate a whole lot, but I celebrated on that one. It validates my fencing career,” said Kelsey who had been eliminated in the table of 32 at each of his past Games.

As Kelsey entered the tournament with a world ranking of 20th, he drew the top seed of the tournament – Nikolai Novosjolov (EST) – in the table of 16.

Although Kelsey had never defeated the former World Champion, he led this bout from start to finish to win the bout, 15-11.

“I feel like I had to challenge him every moment, every step, every blade action.  If you start giving him an inch, he’s going to take everything. So I knew I had to stand up to him and be like ‘hey, you’re not going to push me around,’” Kelsey said.

Kelsey noted that he kept his focus on each individual touch while fencing Novosjolov.

“I’ve made that mistake before and I was super focused. I’ve fenced him a couple times and I know where he’s gotten me before. I needed to get each touch and I was working hard for each one. You can’t win the Olympics unless you get all the touches and I was very focused,” he said.

In the quarter-finals, Kelsey dominated his bout against Silvio Fernandez (VEN) to take the win, 15-9.

“Fernandez has an incredibly fast arm and an incredibly deep lunge and I knew that if you hang out in distance and daydream a little bit, he will hit you in the leg, the chest, the hand. So I was getting him in distance, challenging him there like really pulling distance, challenging him and making him do the actions,” Kelsey said.

During his semifinal bout against Ruben Limardo (VEN), the fencers were tied at two touches each in the second period when the referee made a passivity call which sent the bout into the third period.

“I felt like Limardo was really pulling distance really well and it would make it incredibly difficult to attack so I didn’t want to force anything on him, so better to take the passivity and maybe the pressure would build on him and he’d crack and come out,” Kelsey said.

The bout was sent into the third period where each fencer scored three touches. With the score tied at five, a sudden death overtime period was called where Limardo scored the first touch to win the bout, 6-5.

In the bronze medal bout, Kelsey trailed Jinsun Jung (KOR), but caught up to tie the score in the third period at 11 touches each – at which point Kelsey decided to take a gamble.

Both fencers opted to stop attacking in the final 30 seconds in favor of sending the bout to a one-minute sudden death overtime period and Kelsey said he enjoyed the pressure of the situation.

“You’ve gotta take your chances. You win some, you lose some,” Kelsey said. “It’s fun. It’s an Olympic medal all in one touch. It’s very exciting.”

After double touches were called twice and no score was awarded, Jung hit the edge of Kelsey’s foot in the final 30 seconds to win the bout.

“It just shows how close we really are. He was reading my distance really well and we were both really committing. He hit my foot by like a quarter of an inch,” Kelsey said. “I’ve always been disappointed in my previous Olympic performances. But today I beat three great guys. I had one of the best performances for U.S. men’s epee in as long as I can remember,” said Kelsey whose result was the best U.S. finish for a men’s epee fencer since 1956. “I felt like I put in a ton of hard work and won some tough bouts. I would have loved to have brought home a medal, but I felt like I gave myself the best possible shot I was going to have.”

First-time Olympian Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) fenced on the opposite side of the bracket as Zagunis and had hoped for an all-American final with her friend and teammate.

Wozniak won her Olympic debut bout in the table of 32, 15-6, over Egyptian Salma Mahran (EGY).

In the table of 16, Wozniak trailed Azza Besbes (TUN), 12-10, but came back to win the bout, 15-13.

“I knew that, no matter how behind I was, that I had to not freak out … and just tried my hardest to fight. Even though I was down and even though she evened the score at the end, 13-13, I knew I just wanted to finish the bout,” Wozniak said.

Seeded 10th at the Games, Wozniak faced reigning World Champion Sofya Velikaya (RUS) in the next round.

Velikaya, who won both individual and team World titles in 2011, led the bout, 13-9, in the second period, but Wozniak came within a touch of tying the bout (14-13) before the Russian scored the last touch and end the bout at 15-13.

“One thing I didn’t do is I didn’t make sharp enough actions… I was reacting more to her. Yes I was scoring touches, but she was more in control of the bout. She has very good footwork, very good technique and I knew the only way to score a point on her was to outsmart her. For the most part, even if I got one block, she was ready for a second one, so she was kind of always one step ahead of me,” Wozniak said.

Although she had a career best result at the Games, Wozniak said she was disappointed that she wasn’t able to bring home a medal.

“I feel good about it, but I wish I could have done a little bit better. I had a plan and I kind of doubted myself a couple times and I think that’s what put me behind,” Wozniak said. “It’s my first time making top eight and I hope I can stick around for another four years and get a medal next time. I can’t wait for 2016. Not only will we have a team event, but I’ve got a great group of girls sitting at home who I’d love to be here competing with.”

Two-time Olympian Soren Thompson (San Diego, Calif. / New York City, N.Y.) was hampered by injuries throughout the season and the Athens Olympic quarter-finalist was eliminated in the table of 32 after a 15-4 loss to Joerg Fiedler (GER).

Competition continues on Thursday when the U.S Women’s Foil Team will take on Korea in the quarter-finals of the team event.

Competition schedule is as follows:

August 2
Women’s Team Foil
10:30 a.m. – Quarter-finals
Noon – Semifinals 
3 p.m. – 5th – 6th and 7th – 8th Place Matches
6 p.m. – Bronze Medal Match
7:15 p.m. – Gold Medal Match

Top eight and U.S. results are as follows:

Women’s Individual Saber
1. Jiyeon Kim (KOR)
2. Sofya Velikaya (RUS)
3. Olga Kharlan (UKR)
4. Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.)
5. Vassiliki Vougiouka (GRE)
6. Irene Vecchi (ITA)
7. Min Zhu (CHN)
8. Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.)

Men’s Individual Epee
1. Ruben Limardo (VEN)
2. Bartosz Piasecki (NOR)
3. Jinsun Jung (KOR)
4. Seth Kelsey (Portland, Ore. / Colorado Springs, Colo.)
5. Paolo Pizzo (ITA)
6. Silvio Fernandez (VEN)
7. Yannick Borel (FRA)
8. Joerg Fiedler (GER)

19. Soren Thompson (San Diego, Calif. / New York City, N.Y.)

Tag(s): News  Dagmara Wozniak  Mariel Zagunis