Posted: Tuesday July 31, 2012 2:23 PM

Fencer Zagunis eyes Olympic gold hat trick

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LONDON (AP) - Five days after carrying the American flag at the opening ceremony, fencer Mariel Zagunis is looking for her second personal highlight of the Olympics at the women's individual saber on Wednesday.

Zagunis is seeking a third straight gold medal, winning both events since women's saber debuted at the 2004 Games in Athens. That victory made her the first American to collect gold in Olympic fencing.

She also won the bronze with the American team in Beijing four years ago.

"I'm really treating this like it's my first time at the Olympics,'' Zagunis said.

"I'm just going into this tournament thinking this is it, this is all that I've got and I'm going to put it all out there.''

She will begin her quest against Diah Permatasari of Indonesia.

Following up on her Beijing victory, Zagunis won world titles in 2009 and '10, but lost in last year's final.

World champion Sophya Velikaya of Russia will again be among Zagunis' main challengers, while third-ranked Olga Kharlan will be bidding for a second fencing gold medal for Ukraine. Her teammate, Yana Shemyakina, won the individual epee Monday.

Also Wednesday, top-ranked Nikolai Novosjolov of Estonia and world champion Paolo Pizzo of Italy are gold favorites in the men's individual epee.

Defending champion Matteo Tagliariol of Italy failed to qualify after a disappointing season in which he stumbled in the opening round of last year's world championships in Catania, Sicily.

Second-seeded Fabian Kauter of Switzerland and Bas Verwijlen of the Netherlands could spoil the party for Novosjolov and Pizzo.

Kauter is a European and world championship bronze medalist, while Verwijlen made it to the final of the 2011 worlds and has climbed to sixth in the epee rankings.

The events are the final two individual fencing competitions at the Olympics. The team events are coming up, with the women competing in foil and epee and the men in saber and foil.

 
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