In one night of fencing at the London Olympics a mighty champion stumbled from her perch, a nation found redemption in gold and two men went where none of their compatriots had gone before.
The biggest fencing upset of the Games so far was a self-inflicted wound by women’s sabre fencer, flag-bearer and gold medal favorite Mariel Zagunis, 27, of the US.
In a spectacular collapse Zagunis, who needed just three more touches, or points, to make it into the gold medal match, went from leading South Korea’s Kim Ji-yeon 12-5 to losing 15-13.
Her attempt to win a third straight individual gold medal was compounded by a loss in the bronze medal match, meaning the world No. 1 came away empty-handed.
“She didn’t beat me, I beat myself,” Zagunis told reporters after her semi-final match with Kim.
“I lost concentration. I probably thought I had it,” she said with a sharp edge of disgust in her voice.
Zagunis won gold in Athens after being a last-minute entry and she repeated that feat in Beijing.
Losing on the Olympic stage is a new experience for the American, who, with two world championships to her name, is practically the only fencer to earn a living in what is considered a minor sport in the US.
For Kim, 24, the medal was completely unexpected as she had never fought back from such a large deficit and converted it to a win before. She was seeded fifth in the competition.
“This is an extraordinary experience. Yes, this is an unexpected win for me,” she said.
The triumph was even more poignant given that two nights previously teammate Shin A-lam was caught up in a technical problem that probably cost her a chance to contest for gold in the epee.
“I was there and crying too. It made me want to try even harder to win,” said Kim, her sabre gold medal around her neck, having beaten Russia’s Sofya Velikaya, 27, the reigning world champion, 15-9.
Olga Kharlan, 21, of Ukraine beat Zagunis for the bronze 15-10.
Venezuela’s Ruben Limardo Gascon won the nation’s first gold in 44 years and their first fencing medal at a Games by beating Bartosz Piasecki of Norway 15-10 in the epee.
“I turn 27 in two days. This is the best birthday gift I could ever have given myself,” Limardo Gascon said.
The silver marked Norway’s first Olympic fencing medal and for Piasecki, a high school maths teacher who heads back to the classroom in two weeks, an unexpected prize.