The week before she started taking classes at Notre Dame freshman Mariel Zagunis took gold at the Olympics in Athens.
Zagunis, from Beaverton, Oregon, won the gold medal in the women’s individual sabre competition, becoming the first American woman ever to win a medal in Olympic fencing. The only fencing gold ever won by an American man came 100 years ago.
In other events, alumni Shannon Boxx ‘99 and Kate Sobrero Markgraf ’98 won gold medals as defensive specialists on the U.S. women’s soccer team, and Ruth Riley ‘01 won a gold medal as a reserve center on the U.S. women’s basketball team.
Zagunis, 19, deferred her enrollment at Notre Dame a year to concentrate on making the Olympic team and then narrowly missed the cut by losing a match in late March against another U.S. fencer, Sada Jacobson, the world’s No. 1. The match was decided by narrowest of margins, a single touch. Jacobson went on to win the bronze in Athens.
The Notre Dame freshman made the team only because the Nigerian Olympic committee withdrew its competitor. Normally that slot would have gone to the next highest-ranked competitor from Africa, but there wasn’t one. That left the door open for the next highest-rated fencer who had not yet qualified, which was Zagunas, ranked fourth in the world.
Prior to the games in Athens, only two Olympic gold medalists had to ties to Notre Dame: basketball players Vince Boryla (1964, Tokyo) and Adrian Dantley ‘78 (1976, Montreal) with Boryla having transferred to the University of Denver prior to his Olympic participation.
Here’s how other Notre Dame student athletes and alumni did at the Olympics:
—Monica Gonzalez ‘02 competed on Mexico’s soccer team, which lost to Brazil in the quarter-finals.
—Junior Christel Bouvron became the first current Notre Dame student to compete in the Olympics in 84 years when she swam the 200m butterfly for Singapore. She finished 32nd, last, matching her seeding coming into the games. She had the same result at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
—Jan Viviani ‘03, four-time All-American in fencing for the Irish, competed for the U.S. in the men’s epee team competition. The U.S. team finished sixth.
—Freshman Andrew MacKay swam the 200m individual medley for the Cayman Islands and finished 41st in the 50-swimmer field. On the plus side, that was six places higher than his seeding, and he registered the fastest start off the blocks of any swimmer at the games. He also swam the 400m individual medley, finishing 33rd out of 36, one better than his seeding.
—Jeff Smoke ’03 competed in flatwater kayaking for the United States. His team finished seventh in the semifinals of the two-man 1000m race.