Former Notre Dame fencer returns for more gold
Source: JOURNAL GAZETTE By Michael Rothestein
After she completes her trip to China, Mariel Zagunis is taking time off. For one of the few times she can remember, she’s going on vacation with one caveat: She will not be thinking about fencing.
“I really want to go to Hawaii,” Zagunis said by cell phone from Beijing, where she is preparing for the Olympic Games. “I’ve never been there, and it’ll be really nice to go to a tropical place without my fencing bag.
“A lot of the top fencers feel the same way. It’s year-round with our training and competition schedules.”
Zagunis left Notre Dame after the first semester of her junior year in 2006 to focus on qualifying for a second Olympics, traveling around the world to compete in international competitions and focus on training in Oregon.
Four years ago, Zagunis entered the Athens Olympics as the last fencer in the women’s sabre competition, earning her spot after another competitor had dropped out. Then a student at Notre Dame, Zagunis won the gold medal, the first for an American fencer since 1904.
This time, with her spot for Beijing secured since March, she changed her training regimen with the knowledge she won’t have to wait out any last-minute changes.
“My mental preparation was different,” Zagunis said. “It changes a little bit, but not too much. I’m still trying to do everything just like I did last time.”
She said she doesn’t feel any more pressure because of the strength of the women’s sabre field, although she will admit she feels more people are noticing her now – from a pre-Olympics news conference Wednesday to doing more interviews before she left for Beijing.
There’s one other way this Olympics will be different than the others – she has teammates. In 2004, the sabre was an individual event for the women, where it is a team event this year.
Three fencers with Notre Dame ties will be at the Games: Zagunis, epeeist and Notre Dame junior Kelley Hurley and incoming freshman and foil fencer Gerek Meinhardt. Zagunis didn’t attend school with either Hurley or Meinhardt, but might as she said she plans to finish her degree at Notre Dame.
“It helps,” Zagunis said. “I’ve known both of them before they applied to Notre Dame because we’ve been on national teams. It’s cool we have that common bond.”
Zagunis also used the word “cool” to describe her Beijing experience so far, although she admitted it is more humid in China than in Athens and competing in an indoor event, the pollution and heat won’t affect her.
The coolest thing for Zagunis is she’s defending her gold medal and after, she’ll get a much-needed break.