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Mariel Zagunis Five-Peats at Pan Ams in Saber, Meinhardt Wins Foil Gold

06/18/2013, 3:15pm CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

Mariel Zagunis (left) defeated teammate Eliza Stone in the gold medal final to win her fifth straight title. Photo credit: Amy Timacheff / FIE

Gerek Meinhardt (right) defeated teammate Race Imboden in the men's foil final. Photo Credit: Amy Timacheff / FIE /

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – If it’s harder to defend a title than to win one the first time, becoming the best in the Pan Am region for five straight years is nearly unfathomable.

Unless you’re Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.), of course.

The two-time Olympic Champion won her fifth straight individual women’s saber title on Monday at the Pan American Championships in Cartagena, Colombia – breaking her own previous record of four consecutive titles.

Zagunis’s win capped a day in which Team USA went 1-2-3 in both women’s saber and men’s foil where two-time Olympian Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.) won his second career individual Pan Am Championship gold.

“It is a big accomplishment for me to win Pan Ams for the fifth year in a row. Once you start setting a winning streak like that however, the pressure to win can be greater and greater each year. But I treat Pan Am Championships like any other World Cup that I want to win,” Zagunis said.

Seeded second after an undefeated run in the pools, Zagunis had few challenges during the early rounds as she took out her first three opponents all by 15-4 margins with wins over Heyddys Ysabel (DOM), Jennifer Orales Carriera (CUB) and Gabriella Page (CAN) to advance to the evening semifinals.

All three of Zagunis’s U.S. teammates found themselves in the top half of the bracket and the first all-American match-up of the day would be between first-time Pan Am Team member Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.) and two-time Senior World Team medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.) in the quarter-finals.

Stone, who gave up just six touches during the pool rounds, was seeded first in the direct elimination rounds while a loss in the pools left Muhammad with a ninth seed.

Following a 15-7 victory over Heather Shacker (CAN) and a 15-9 win against Vanessa Infante (MEX), Stone edged Muhammad, 15-14, to advance to the semifinals against London Olympian Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.)

Wozniak, the fourth seed in the tournament, opened with a 15-8 win over Milagros Pastran (VEN) in the table of 32. She went on to take her next two bouts by 15-10 margins against Paola Pliego (MEX) and four-time individual Pan Am medalist Sandra Sassine (CAN).

Fencing Wozniak for the first time in an international event, Stone caught her teammate off-guard and jumped to a 5-0 lead in the semis, but Wozniak regrouped and cut Stone’s lead to one touch (8-7) at the break.

Although Stone pulled ahead again in the second period to take a 12-8 lead, Wozniak stayed in the bout and tied the score at 14. Stone won the final touch on a single light to advance to the gold medal final against Zagunis who dominated three-time Olympian Alejandra Benitez (VEN) for a 15-2 win.

Zagunis’s bout gold medal bout against Stone would be their second of the season with Zagunis taking their last match-up, 15-10, in the quarter-finals of the Gent World Cup in February.

With the score tied at one in the first period, Zagunis appeared to be unstoppable as she scored seven straight touches to lead the bout, 8-1, at the break. Known for her steely resolve, however, Stone kept grinding through the second period and came within two touches of Zagunis (12-10).

Zagunis outscored Stone, 3-2, during the final five touches to win the bout, 15-12, and claim her fifth straight individual Pan Am Championship gold.

“I came to Colombia with high expectations and I feel like I fenced really well all day. I really wanted to win this competition and I am pleased that I was able to do so,” Zagunis said.

Zagunis noted that Team USA’s 1-2-3 finish puts her teammates in a good position for seeding at the Senior World Championships which will be held in Budapest in August.

“It's an important tournament for all of us points-wise so I'm glad I was able to do well, and that my teammates, Eliza and Daga, also got medals. Unfortunately Eliza and Ibti met relatively early on in the quarter finals. Daga and Eliza also had a really close 15-14 match in the semis and it’s always too bad when teammates have to come up against each other but at a certain point there is no other choice,” Zagunis said. “Eliza fenced great today and I am proud of her for getting a silver medal at her first ever Pan Am Championships. I am really looking forward to competing in the team event in a few days with all of the girls.”

Meinhardt won his last Pan Am title as a 17-year-old in 2007 and has medaled in four of the last five Pan Am Championships since then.

The 2010 Senior World medalist finished the pools as the top seed with an undefeated record. Meinhardt’s London teammates – Miles Chamley-Watson (Philadelphia, Pa.), Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) – each went undefeated as well and earned the second, third and fourth seeds in direct elimination table, respectively.

In the early rounds, Meinhardt gave up no more than seven touches to any opponent on his way to the semifinals as he defeated Jose Samora Geronimo (DOM), Heitor Shimbo (BRA) and Felipe Guillermo Saucedo (ARG).

Meinhardt met Canadian Maximilien Van Haaster in the semifinals after Van Haaster upset Massialas, 15-12, in the quarters. The Canadian took a 3-1 lead before the referee determined that the setting sun was shining in Meinhardt’s eyes, impeding his vision and requiring a break be called in the action.

After 10 minutes, the sun lowered and competition resumed.

Meinhardt later joked: “The sun break didn't throw me off at all – the sun in my eyes before the break did! I'm glad they were able to resolve that.”

Meinhardt went on to tie the bout at five and held onto the lead to finish the bout, 15-11, in the first period.

In the second semifinal, Imboden faced Chamley-Watson. The two-time reigning Champion, Imboden took a 7-3 lead in the first period, but Chamley-Watson came back to tie the bout at seven after a weapon change.

Imboden went on a seven-touch run to take the score to 14-7. Chamley-Watson scored once more before the break, but Imboden finished the bout, 15-8, in the second period.

Although both athletes fence nearly a dozen events per year together, Imboden and Meinhardt have never fenced in international competition and Imboden won their last domestic bout, 15-13, in the finals of the January North American Cup last year.

Imboden and Meinhardt exchanged touches with Imboden taking a 12-10 lead late in the first period. Meinhardt tied the bout at 12 in the final seconds and scored three straight in the next period to win the bout, 15-12.

“Race and I haven't fenced in a while so we spent much of the beginning of the bout feeling each other out. We traded a couple streaks of touches and I was able to get the last one to pull it out,” Meinhardt said. “A lot has happened over the past six years since I won my first Pan Ams, and I feel blessed to have won again. I've had a great season and I hope I can carry the momentum heading into Worlds.”

Competition continues on Tuesday with the men’s individual saber and women’s individual epee events.

Click here to view the live stream as well as the replay of the men’s foil and women’s saber finals.

Click here to view complete women’s saber results.

Click here to view complete men’s foil results.

Top eight results are as follows:

Women’s Individual Saber
1. Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.)
2. Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.)

3. Alejandra Benitez (VEN)
3. Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.)
5. Maria Belen Perez Maurice (ARG)
6. Sandra Sassine (CAN)
7. Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.)
8. Gabriella Page (CAN)

Men’s Individual Foil
1. Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.)
2. Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
3. Miles Chamley-Watson (Philadelphia, Pa.)

3. Maximilien Van Haaster (CAN)
5. Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.)
6. Daniel Gomez (MEX)
7. Guilherme Toldo (BRA)
8. Felipe Guillermo Saucedo (ARG)

Tag(s): News  Gerek Meinhardt  Ibtihaj Muhammad  Miles Chamley-Watson  Dagmara Wozniak  Mariel Zagunis  Eliza Stone