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Succeding Through Failure

Learning From A "Failure" Who Won Olympic Gold

As a medical student failure is readily on the mind. The constant barrage of exams and evaluations serve as an ever present reminder that failure is always just around the corner. With aspirations of matriculating into a competitive specialty or prestigious institution dependent on every testing move you make, it's easy to get a little crazy and stressed from time to time, especially when a test may not go the way you hoped.

The truth is failure is a natural part of success. However when you are a medical student the difference between personal success and failure can be as little as a handful of questions on an exam or looking stupid on rounds in front of everyone. It's easy to question your skills and ability to become a great doctor when things don't go the way you feel that you have failed. Remembering that the absence of failure is not what defines the great physicians. Failure will happen to you at some point in your medical journey. What defines greatness is learning to use it, to push through it, to succeed in spite of it.

Mariel Zagunis knows a bit about dealing with adversity and keeping failure in perspective.

In 2004, Zagunis did not qualify to fence in the Athens Olympics. Actually she missed the last spot by one match point! Years of practice and sacrifice had all culminated to this point and she missed it by one point.


Nigeria decided not to send their qualifying fencer to the tournament, and as the next highest seeded fencer in the world, Zagunis was selected to represent the United States at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Of course as an alternate who made the team by, what some would call, luck expectations on her performance where less than inspiring. However by the end of the Olympic tournament that would all change.

In her first round Zangunis defeated Japanese fencer Madoka Hisagae, 15–13.

In the quarter finals, she defeated Elena Jemayeva of Azerbaijan, 15–11.

In the semi-finals, the underdog clinched at least a silver medal by defeating Romania's Catalina Gheorghitoaia, 15–10.

Zagunis then faced Chinese fencer Xue Tan in the finals, defeating her 15–9 and become the first American to win an Olympic fencing gold medal in 100 years.

Zagunis' win surprised everyone in the fencing world. Being picked last for the team was not important, she competed as if she was the best in the world and it showed.  She returned to Beijing in 2008 and despite being ranked #6 took gold again.

Her arrival at the London games was much different. She was now a favorite to win gold, an American Hero. The only trouble is, she did not even finish with a medal. She was quoted in an interview after losing, just shy of a medal round.

“She didn’t beat me — I beat myself,” Zagunis said, adding that that is generally the case when she is beaten.

That may sound a bit arrogant, until you consider Zagunis’s current status in the world of fencing. Before the London Olympics she was ranked No. 1 in the world. She now has two Olympic gold medals and three world championships, including one — the 2010 competition in Paris — that she fenced with a fractured femur.

Zagunis' last big failure led to be the first American in 100 year to win an individual gold medal in Fencing.It will be interesting to see where this failure will take her next.

Mariel Zagunis Talks about Tough Times

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Reader Comments (1)

Wow! Inspiring post! I also agree that failure is part of success. Mariel Zagunis is an inspiration. :)

Aug 12 | Unregistered CommenterSuji

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