With Chicago’s Eliza Stone playing a pivotal part, the U.S. women won the saber team gold medal at the World Fencing Championships Monday in Kazan, Russia.
Fencing the seventh of nine legs in the final match with France, Stone took her team from a lead of two points to a comfortable five-point advantage.
Two legs later, two-time Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis closed out a 45-39 victory, giving the U.S. women their first world team title since 2005.
"I don’t think I quite understand how big of a deal it is," Stone said. "I’ve heard it’s big, but I’m still in shock."
Stone, 23, had finished 10th in last week’s individual competition. Zagunis was the individual silver medalist.
The 8th-seeded French helped clear the No. 3-seed USA’s path to the gold by eliminating No. 1 Russia in the quarterfinals.
Stone also made a big contribution in the semis, fencing three legs as the U.S. beat No. 2 Urkraine 45-44.
A 5-0 victory in Stone’s first semifinal bout gave the U.S. team a lead it relinquished only in the final leg, when Dagmara Wozniak rallied to hold off the Ukraine’s Olga Kharlan, who had defeated Zagunis for the individual title.
In her senior world meet debut last year, Stone was part of the bronze-medal-winning U.S. team with the same teammates: Zagunis, Wozniak and Ibtihaj Muhammad.
Stone was determined not to have a repeat of her performance in last year's bronze-medal match with Italy, when the team gave her a 10-0 lead. She lost that bout 15-4.
"I’ve been training all year long mentally to never do what I did in the match against Italy ever again," Stone said. "(This) meant that, in a small way, the mental work I’ve been doing has paid off because I was able to keep it mentally tough out there for the team."
This was the third world team gold for Zagunis, who also won in 2000 and 2005.
"I think she (Eliza) has grown a lot in the last year when it comes down to the pressure of fencing for a medal," Zagunis said. "She did a really good job just holding it together and not really succumbing to the pressure and being able to fence a hard bout and keep us in the game."
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun