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U.S. Women’s Saber Team Wins Senior World Championships

07/21/2014, 6:15pm CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

Team USA's Eliza Stone, Mariel Zagunis, Ibtihaj Muhammad and Dagmara Wozniak won the U.S. Women's Saber Team's third gold medal in Senior Worlds history on Monday. Photo Credit: Nicole Jomantas

(Kazan, Russia) – The U.S. Women’s Saber Team won its first Senior World Championship title since 2005 on Monday and the squad’s third title in the history of the sport.

The victory followed a silver medal win in the individual event by two-time Olympic Champion Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) and is Zagunis’s fifth Senior World title with her first coming as a team gold medal at the 2000 Senior Worlds when she was just 15-years-old.

“It’s really funny because we were just counting all the medals throughout the years since my first Senior World Championship team 15 years ago when our U.S. team won a gold medal for the first time in history in any weapon. It’s really exciting, but I’m never thinking about racking up numbers … It just feels amazing to be a World Champion again,” said Zagunis who now holds three Senior World team titles to go with the back-to-back individual golds she won in 2009 and 2010.

While this is a return to the podium for Zagunis, her teammates – London Olympian Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.), five-time Senior World Team member Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.) and two-time Senior World Team member Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.) – each came into this Senior World Championships with the goal of winning her first gold medal at the event.

Following a season in which Team USA has won gold, silver and bronze on the World Cup circuit, the ladies would need four match wins to secure the elusive title of World Champion.

Due to their No. 3 world ranking, the Americans earned a bye into the table of 16 where Wozniak anchored the squad to a 45-22 victory against Kazakhstan.

In the quarter-finals, Zagunis returned as anchor against China and held up Team USA’s lead to win the match, 45-43.

“All day today we were focused on the task at hand. In the past, we’ve gotten so excited about getting to the gold medal final that we lose sight of what’s in front of us and today, even in the bouts against Kazakhstan and China, we were concentrating only on that and I even gave a little pep talk to our team and said that we’re not thinking about the podium because you can’t be focused too far ahead and we really fought through each and every touch and each and every bout today which I think made a really big difference for our concentration and our motivation,” Zagunis said.

The semifinals came down to Team USA and Ukraine, the reigning Senior World Champions whom the Americans had beaten at the Absolute Fencing Gear® Korfanty World Cup in Chicago in May.

While Wozniak was given a three-touch lead at 40-37 going into the final bout against Ukraine, she also found herself up against Olga Kharlan – the two-time individual reigning Senior World Champion whom she had fenced in Chicago when Team USA also defeated Ukraine in the semis.

“Honestly, I didn’t feel too much pressure. I just knew that if I kept myself calm, no matter what happened, it’s like I’ve been saying to myself all day – ‘It’s not over ‘til it’s over.’ I knew I just needed to stay focused, stay calm and just execute,” Wozniak said.

Her steely focus helped Wozniak through a difficult bout as she broke the tie at 44-44 with a single light touch to give the Americans the win and the team its first trip to the gold medal final at the Senior Worlds since 2006 when Team USA took silver.

“That was a big hump we had to get over. The past three years we’ve been in third place and we’ve always come so so close and it’s that semifinal match that gets us,” Zagunis said. “I think a lot of pressure was lifted off of us after we won the match because we knew we were fencing France in the final and we knew we overcame a really tough team. We took a couple hours during the break to reflect on what happened with Ukraine, but also refocus ourselves for this evening. We knew that France wasn’t going to be easy because this is a position they really wanted to get into to – to be in the gold medal bout.”

In fact, France qualified for the finals by defeating Russia – a team that won gold in 2010, 2011 and 2012 – in the quarter-finals and Italy in the semis.

Team USA took in early lead in the gold medal final, but France caught up and took a 20-15 lead after the fourth bout. Zagunis came in for the fifth, however, and outscored two-time Junior World team medalist Manon Brunet, 10-3, to give the Americans a 25-23 lead that was pivotal for the bout.

“I was thinking not about the score. I was just thinking about fencing Brunet like she was any other fencer and that it was a regular semifinal or final bout on that stage,” Zagunis said. “I was just concentrated on scoring one touch at a time and getting that comeback for our team. I was calm and I knew that she was going to be nervous. It was her first World Championships in that position and I used that to my advantage.”

Wozniak split her touches with 2009 and 2010 Senior World team medalist Cecilia Berder at 5-5 to hold the two-touch lead for Team USA.

Fencing in the seventh bout, Stone played a key role in helping grow the lead against France as she outscored Saoussen Boudiaf (FRA), 5-2.

Stone noted that her win against Boudiaf was the perfect end to her day and served as a confidence builder for the future.

“I’ve been training all year long mentally to never do what I did at the 2013 Worlds in the match against Italy ever again,” said Stone who struggled with the pressure of the bronze medal final last year. “It meant so much more than winning today. It meant that, in a small way, the mental work I’ve been doing has paid off because I was able to keep it mentally tough out there for the team.”

Wozniak won her bout against Charlotte Lembach, 5-3, which afforded Zagunis a seven-touch cushion at the start of her final bout against Berder whom Zagunis defeated in the table of 16 in the individual event.

Berder scored six touches against Zagunis, but couldn’t hold off the Americans who won the bout by a six-touch margin and a 45-39 score.

“We’ve fallen short this past few years, but I always knew we had it in our team, things just never aligned and this year I feel like we had some great results this season,” said Zagunis who won bronze with her current teammates in 2013 and two more bronzes with Wozniak and Muhammad in 2010 and 2011. “We all really wanted it. Everyone fenced really really well today and I’m proud that we were able to bring home the gold.”

For Muhammad, the win marked a breakthrough moment for her and her teammates after years of hard work.

“We’ve fenced together for so long that I feel like we know each other’s idiosyncrasies and the way we play off of each other and the way we build each other’s confidence. I think it’s all finally come together and like we’ve been bridesmaids at every single World Championships I’ve been at and now we finally get to be the bride!” Muhammad laughed. “It’s just a nod to the hard work and team unity and comradery that we have. I feel really thankful and just blessed to have the group of girls that I’ve been with. I feel like we have this core team and no other team has what we have. We fight for each other and know we’ve always got each other’s back out there.”

With this as her seventh Senior World team appearance, Wozniak has won team medals and been a part of squads with near misses at this event.

“It feels amazing. Now I know why Mariel likes winning so much! [laughs] I definitely want this feeling again – and hopefully in individual!” said Wozniak who placed sixth in the individual competition on Friday.

Much like the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team, Stone said the women’s saber squad frequently reminded each other to “believe” during each bout.

“It means when you know what to do, when you have studied this fencer for months, you can go out on the strip and do what you need to do and not worry about your nerves tripping you up. It means performing actions correctly when you know you have to,” Stone said.

And with just two years remaining before the Rio Olympic Games, the U.S. Women’s Saber Team firmly believes it can win its first Olympic gold.  

The men’s team saber event also was contested on Monday with Team USA placing sixth – the team’s best result at a Senior Worlds since 2005.

London Olympians Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) and Jeff Spear (Wynantskill, N.Y.) and 2014 Junior World team medalists Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.) and Andrew Mackiewicz (Westwood, Mass.) joined together in the team event where the Americans began the day with a 14-touch win against Argentina, 45-31, in the table of 16.

In the quarter-finals against Germany, Team USA led for much of the match, but Homer entered the anchor bout with a three-touch deficit and couldn’t make up ground against 2009 Senior World Champion Nicolas Limbach who locked up a 45-41 in for Germany.

Team USA came back in the next round in which all four fencers competed against France and won seven of nine bouts to win the match by 10 touches and a score of 45-35.

The Americans fenced Italy, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalists, in their final match, but lost the match, 45-36.

The team competition continues on Tuesday with both men’s and women’s epee and foil events.

The foil rounds will begin with the table of 16 and continue through the medal rounds while epee includes just the tables of 64 and 32.

Team USA’s rosters for Tuesday’s events are as follows:

Men’s Foil

  • Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.), two-time Olympian and two-time Senior World medalist
  • Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.), 2012 Olympian and 2013 Senior World Champion
  • Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.), 2012 Olympian and 2013 Senior World team silver medalist
  • Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.), 2012 Olympian and 2013 Senior World silver medalist

Women’s Foil

  • Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.), 2012 Olympian and 2011 Senior World bronze medalist
  • Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.), 2012 Olympian and two-time Grand Prix medalist
  • Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y.), 2012 Olympian and 2009 Junior World Team Champion
  • Sabrina Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.), 2014 Junior World Team Champion

Men’s Epee

  • Andras Horanyi (Colorado Springs, Colo.), four-time Senior World Team member
  • Jimmy Moody (Colorado Springs, Colo.), 2014 Senior World Team member
  • Jason Pryor (Colorado Springs, Colo.), two-time Senior World Team member
  • Adam Watson (Richford, Vt.), two-time Senior World Team member

Women’s Epee

For complete results, visit

Top eight results are as follows:

Men’s Saber Senior World Championships
1. Germany
2. Korea
3. Hungary
4. Russia
5. Italy
6. USA
7. Romania
8. France

Women’s Saber Senior World Championships
1. USA

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

Tag(s): News  Daryl Homer  Ibtihaj Muhammad  Jeff Spear  Dagmara Wozniak  Mariel Zagunis  Eliza Stone