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Team USA Defeats Russia, Wins Gold in Chicago

05/06/2013, 8:15am CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

Gold medalists Mariel Zagunis, Ibtihaj Muhammad and Eliza Stone.

U.S. Women Upset Russian En Route to Gold, U.S. Men Place Ninth in Chicago

(Chicago, Ill.) – After three bronze medals on the World Cup circuit this season, the U.S. Women’s Saber Team, concluded the 2013 World Cup Circuit with a gold medal win at the Absolute Fencing Gear® Korfanty World Cup at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Fencing with three members of the teams that won bronze at the 2011 and 2012 World Championships, Team USA’s lineup included Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.), Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) and Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.) as well as newcomer Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.)

All four team members competed in the table of 16 match against Mexico in which Team USA won all nine bouts and finished the match, 45-23.

In the quarter-finals, Team USA changed the lineup to lead off with Stone and Wozniak stepped in as the anchor – a position traditionally held by Zagunis. Team USA won the match, 45-39, as Wozniak held off 2003 Senior World medalist Aleksandra Socha in the final bout.

Team USA faced Russia – the three-time reigning Senior World Team Champions – in the semifinals for the first time this season.

Although Russia led the match, 15-7, after the first three bouts, Wozniak outscored Dina Galiakbarova, 10-5, to cut the Russians’ lead to three touches.

Wozniak’s win over Galiakbarova, who took bronze in the individual event on Saturday, would prove to be pivotal for the team as Muhammad racked up eight touches to 2011 Senior World medalist Yuliya Gavrilova’s three to give Team USA a 25-23 lead.

“It’s all about momentum and that’s what I love about the team event, that you use what your teammate has laid out for you and you just build from it. Daga’s energy, I definitely fed off that. Before I went out there, she said ‘Look at me directly in the eyes. You can do this” and that’s what I needed, just that small affirmation,” Muhammad said.

The trio took wins in two of the three next bouts and Zagunis closed out with a 5-2 victory over Gavrilova to win the match, 45-39.

“It was a huge win for us because that was the first time we’ve fenced them this season. It was a good confidence booster for us today to be able to beat them and beat them pretty soundly too. It came together really well. I know everybody’s been training really hard and it was nice to be able to win on our home turf,” Zagunis said.  

Muhammad noted that the win over Russia gives Team USA an advantage going into the Senior World Championships in August.

“We have not fenced them yet this season and we knew there would come a time when we would have to fence them and this puts us into a really good place before World Championships. We know that we can do it and this definitely gives us the confidence we need to go into Worlds strong,” Muhammad said.

The women’s competition had a break before finals which meant a chance to relax while the men fenced, but also that Wozniak would be unable to compete in the gold medal match against Hungary as she had to return to St. John’s for a final exam in the morning.

With just three fencers and no opportunity for substitutions, Zagunis, Stone and Muhammad took the strip against Hungary – a team who the Americans had beaten twice this season.

Although the 10th seeded Hungarians were a young squad, they had shown during the quarter-finals that they could upset powerhouses as they took out Ukraine – the 2008 Olympic Champions and the top seed in the tournament.

“We treated Hungary as any other team. We didn’t want to underestimate them and wanted to fence strong. We knew Daga not being here was gonna be tough mentally for us, but everyone fenced really really well,” Zagunis said.

The Hungarians kept the match close and Team USA led by just a touch, 30-29, after the first six bouts.

Stone expanded Team USA’s lead to two touches in the seventh bout with a 5-4 win over Dora Varga and Muhammad outscored Anna Marton, 5-2, in the eighth.

Zagunis finished the win for Team USA as she finished the final bout, 5-3, against Hungarian anchor Reka Benko to give Team USA a 45-38 victory.

“I think that it helps us a lot to be able to fence on our own turf, in front of an American crowd, pretty much on our time zone. It makes a big difference. It’s nice and they did a great job with the venue this year. A big thanks to UIC for opening up their facility for all the fencers,” said Zagunis who hinted that the gold medal was a prelude of things to come at the World Championships in August. “We don’t know yet who’s going to be the team going into Budapest for Worlds, but I know this is a good prelude to that and hopefully we’ll be able to bring home gold in August as well.”

Muhammad agreed that Team USA has the potential to win it all in Budapest and said that she was pleased to have had the best results of her career this season after narrowly missing qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Team.

“I’m excited for Worlds, with my injuries last year, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it, but I’m having the best season of my life so I cannot wait,” Muhammad said.  

For Stone, the win was not only her first international gold medal with the team, but a chance to shine in front of a hometown crowd of family and friends after finishing in the top 32 on Saturday.

“This is my second time doing team, so it was good to be given the responsibility to fence in the finals and be trusted like that, but, at the same time, that responsibility is scary and I really had to try to focus and not let the crowd to get to my head and that was difficult,” Stone said. “I was partially nervous that my family was watching in the individual event. I was fencing very well and then I made a couple little blips. I lost to Sage and she fenced very well, so it’s not like it was a strange bout or anything, but I dropped it and was disappointed that I couldn’t do better in front of my family because they were all there watching and that’s part of why I wanted to go out and fence as hard as I could today to give them something to cheer for.”

While the U.S. women ended the day with a win over Hungary, the men’s team began the competition with a loss to a Hungarian team led by Aron Szilagyi in the table of 16.

Featuring London Olympians Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) and Jeff Spear (Wynantskill, N.Y.), Team USA also included three-time Senior World Team member Ben Igoe (Staten Island, N.Y.) and 2013 Senior World Team hopeful Aleksander Ochocki (Linden, N.J.)

Although Homer scored 19 touches during his three bouts and won his final bout over Szilagyi, 6-5, he was unable to close the gap and Team USA fell to Hungary, 45-45.

The Americans rebounded to take three straight wins in the 9th – 16th place pool to finish the day in ninth place after victories over Japan (45-32), Poland (45-37) and Belarus (45-38).

Visit for complete results.

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

Absolute Fencing Gear® Korfanty Men’s Team World Cup
1. Russia
2. Italy
3. Korea
4. Romania
5. Ukraine
6. Germany
7. Hungary
8. France

9. USA

Absolute Fencing Gear® Korfanty Women’s Team World Cup
1. USA

2. Hungary
3. Russia
4. Italy
5. Ukraine
6. Poland
7. France
8. Korea

Tag(s): News  Dagmara Wozniak  Mariel Zagunis  Eliza Stone