Olympics-Fencing-U.S. women dream of sabre medals sweep
Source: REUTERS By Gelu Sulugiuc
COPENHAGEN, July 23 (Reuters) – American women have cut through the competition since winning gold and bronze in the individual sabre at the Athens Olympics and are now eyeing gold in the team event, fought for the first time in Beijing.
World number one Sada Jacobson, 2006 world champion Rebecca Ward and Athens gold medallist Mariel Zagunis even dream of sweeping the individual medals and winning the team title.
“That’s very optimistic, but statistically it is possible,” said Jacobson, the Athens bronze medallist.
“The way we are seeded, we could all end up in the top four without running into each other.
“Our supporters want us to do well,” the 25-year-old said. “They’re saying it because of their own enthusiasm and I use it to get pumped up. It feels good they have confidence in us.”
Tough challenges will come from world number three and Athens silver medallist Xue Tan of China and world champion Elena Netchaeva of Russia. In the team event, China, France and Russia could provide stiff resistance.
“It’s a lot about who you draw — some people struggle with certain people,” Jacobson said. “The U.S. team is very strong right now and if we’re fencing well we do have a shot at a medal.”
In a sport where the ability to concentrate is paramount, Jacobson said her Olympic experience has given her an edge.
“Depth has greatly increased, skills sets have grown a lot,” she said. “Injuries have hurt my physical ability. There are things I can’t do physically that I could do four years ago and I have to compensate with strategy and mental toughness.”
AGGRESSIVE WEAPON Sabre is the most aggressive of the three fencing weapons and the only one where slashing hits are allowed.
American sabre fencers benefited from an influx of former Soviet Union coaches and took their chance when women were allowed to compete in Athens in an event long reserved for men.
Four years ago, Zagunis, now 23, became the first American in 100 years to win a fencing gold medal. She was a last-minute entry when another athlete dropped out.
“The U.S. is the favourite team, but the Chinese have home field advantage. Anything can happen,” she said.
An anthropology major at the University of Notre Dame, Zagunis has taken time off school since the winter of 2006 to focus on defending her Olympic title after feeling she was losing her sharpness because of too much school work.
She will complete her degree after Beijing.
“We prepare harder for the Olympics,” said Ward, who is ranked second in the world. “We’re doing some video analysis of the competition. It’s a step up in intensity.” Ward, at 18 years old the youngest on the team, will enrol at Duke University after the Games.
Jacobson earned a history degree from Yale in 2006 and will start law school at the University of Michigan this year. Before that there are the Olympics.
“It’s a make or break situation,” she said. “You have one shot and you have to take it. There are no guarantees going into this one-day competition.” (Editing by Robert Woodward)