Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fierce Zagunis and her fierce friends win Team Bronze

After writing this, I found video of the U.S. Womens Team on MSNBC's site. The video is naturally more enlightening than my words. I will leave the words and links anyway, as a reminder of my impressions of these women and their sport.


I am impressed with the U.S. Women's Saber team. Here are three of the four, pictured on the podium after earlier sweeping the individual medals (L to R): Sada Jacobsen, Mariel Zagunis, Becca Ward.

Getty Images

Slideshows of Zagunis: 1, 2, 3. Not pictured in photo above: fourth team member Dagmara Wozniak.

Saber is an unpredictable high wire act. The touches are counted by fallible human judges. Surges of momentum, seemingly unstoppable when they are happening, come and go - due, I believe, to attacking fencers getting into momentarily unstoppable rhythms, and/or to attacking fencers finding momentary vulnerabilities.

Saber requires tremendous mental toughness. The U.S. had to win 45 points to win their match with France. The U.S. women were fierce. They pulled to an 8 point or so lead near the end, then Becca Ward, especially, had to weather a surging comeback attempt by her opponent. France closed to within a few points, the outcome was perilously in doubt, then Ward put her opponent away. Nothing comes easy in fencing. Every victory is well and fiercely earned. Slideshow of the team during the Bronze Medal Match, and of Ward in the moments immediately after victory.

American Sada Jacobsen, 2004 Bronze Medalist and 2008 Silver Medalist, stands out for her quiet self-possession. She is a Jedi Warrior: fierce in the moment of battle; serene in the moments between, when she appears to have just come out of a half hour of calming meditation. Jacobsen fun fact: her favorite movie is "Princess Bride." Slideshow of Jacobsen.

Zagunis and Becca Ward are demonstrative. Their adrenaline is up, and they show it. They stalk the seconds between points as if they are caged tigers. In the millisecond after a touch on her opponent, Ward consistently wheels on the judges and demands satisfaction. The U.K. Guardian called her a diva. So be it. She's our diva, and we love her. Slideshow of Ward.

Zagunis, in what would be her final Olympic point, wheeled on the judges a la Ward - adding an insta-ripping-off-of-her-facemask for effect. Zagunis glared at the judges: Fail to give me that point at your peril. I've had just about ENOUGH of you guys.

This is not that moment, but maybe it will help you imagine the intensity of it. Turn this smile into a demanding glare-which-will-not-be-denied-give-me-the-point-I-deserve-you-bastards, and you pretty much have it:

AP photo


2004 WaPo article about Zagunis' Gold Medal victory in Greece(Jacobsen won Bronze):
"Said Burdan simply: 'Tonight is the greatest night in the history of American fencing.'"
Guardian writer encounters 2008 Individual Olympic Tourney.

March 2008 Interview with 18 year old Ward:
"When the match was over, I was standing there thinking: 'I wonder if I just gave my parents a heart attack?'"

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