About a month ago, fencer Mariel Zagunis was ready to go to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The Beaverton native won the World Cup for sabre in Athens, Greece, on March 7. It was her first victory in an international competition since 2016.
That win meant Zagunis, already the most decorated fencer in U.S. history, would be heading to her fifth Olympic Games.
But shortly after Zagunis returned from Athens to her home in Beaverton, the novel coronavirus brought her season to a halt. Fencing competitions around the world were deferred after the World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic. A few weeks later, more bad news: The 2020 Olympics were postponed.
“Everything just kind of came to a screeching halt,” Zagunis told OPB’s Think Out Loud.
Zagunis has been fencing since she was 10. During the 2004 Olympics, she made history at age 19 when she became the first U.S. fencer to win a gold medal in 100 years. She’s won three more Olympic medals, including another gold in 2008, and became the top-ranked fencer in the country from 2007 to 2017.
In 2017, Zagunis became pregnant with her first child and took a leave of absence from the sport. When she returned to competition, she no longer qualified to compete internationally.
“When I stepped away from the sport to go through my pregnancy and have my child, I pretty much lost all my national and international points,” Zagunis said.
Zagunis petitioned the USA Fencing council to allow her to compete internationally after taking maternity leave. A few months after she had her child, the council passed a rule that allowed Olympic team members to enter into international competitions after taking parental or injury leave.
The 2020 Olympics were set to be Zagunis’s first since the birth of her daughter.
“It has been quite the journey to fight my way back,” she said.
That makes the postponement of the Olympics even more difficult, she said.
“I was just really in a good groove. It took a lot to get there,” Zagunis said. “But I just have to keep going.”
The Olympics have now been rescheduled for summer 2021. For now, Zagunis is doing what training she can while social distancing at home. And she’s looking ahead to the competition – even if it’s a year later than planned.
“When I show up in Tokyo, I hope my experience from high level, high pressure situations will hopefully help me get in the zone and bring home gold next summer,” she said.
To listen to the full interview with Mariel Zagunis, click on the audio player at the top of the page.