Russia dismantled Ukraine to win their fourth fencing gold at the Rio Olympics on Saturday as the Americans took bronze over traditional powerhouse Italy for the second straight day.
Russia lost just one of nine bouts in the women’s team saber final, trouncing Ukraine 45-30 to rack up seven fencing medals at the Games – their best performance in two decades.
“We would like to dedicate this medal to the athletes who were not able to compete in these Games,” said Russian anchor Sofya Velikaya, referring to dozens of compatriots banned from Rio due to revelations of widespread doping.
Russia’s biggest scare of the competition was a narrow semi-final win over the United States, who briefly took the lead when Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American Olympian to compete in a hijab, exploded for 10 points in her last bout of the match.
The Americans fell just short against Russia, but earned the bronze with a clinical win over the Italians, following the example of the U.S. men’s foil team on Friday. The women painted a diverse picture on the podium with pink, blonde and purple hair, plus Muhammad’s Muslim headscarf.
“This is sport. It doesn’t matter what hair colour you have, what religion you are. The point is to go out there and be the best athlete you can be,” said Polish-born Dagmara Wozniak of Team USA. “We’re the best explanation of what America is: a mix of so many different cultures and races and everything all together.”
The four fencing medals for the United States are second only to Russia so far, a testament to the growing American presence in a sport long dominated by Europeans.
American anchor Mariel Zagunis took her fourth Olympic medal and has now medalled at three Games, a new U.S. fencing record.