Mariel Zagunis

Mariel Zagunis wins silver at World Fencing Championships (video)

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The most decorated U.S. fencer ever nearly returned to the top of her sport for the first time in four years Friday, but she couldn’t get past the world’s best.

Two-time Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis lost in the World Championships sabre final in Kazan, Russia, seeking her first World title since 2010.

Zagunis, ranked No. 2 in the world, fell 15-12 to top-ranked Ukrainian Olga Kharlan, who won her second straight World title. Zagunis picked up silver, her 11th career Worlds medal and fifth individual, after finishing fourth at the 2012 Olympics and losing in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Worlds.

“I’m always disappointed in any competition for not getting gold,” Zagunis said in a phone interview shortly after stepping off the podium. “I put pretty high standards on myself. Overall today, I’m pleased with the way I fenced. It was a long, hard-fought day to get to the gold-medal match [having to win five matches before the final].”

Kharlan and Zagunis played to seven ties in their final, with Kharlan falling off the strip on one point and doing the splits on the next after a brief delay. Kharlan took control from 11-all for the victory.

“I knew that there was very little room for error,” Zagunis said. “I gave up a few missed opportunities, and she capitalized on that. … Today went according to plan [overall]. It was still a close bout with me and Olga. It could have gone either way. A few touches here and there.”

Zagunis and Kharlan previously met in the 2012 Olympic bronze-medal match, where Kharlan came from behind to keep Zagunis from winning her third straight Olympic medal in the event (Zagunis won the first two golds in 2004 and 2008).

Zagunis’ semifinal in Kazan was also close, but she pulled away from 10-all to beat Russian Yana Egorian 15-12 to clinch a medal (fencing worlds award double bronzes).

“It feels really good to be back on the podium,” Zagunis said. “That’s one thing I’m taking away from today that’s a huge positive.”

Zagunis won the U.S.’ first medal of the World Championships on the first day of finals competition. The event continues through Wednesday, highlighted by reigning World foil champion Miles Chamley-Watson going on Saturday.

The World Championships are the end of Zagunis’ season. She’ll take a break and then try to qualify for her fourth Olympic Team beginning in April.

“Compared to last year’s World Championships and the way I performed there, this is a really big step forward for me,” Zagunis said.

In 2016, Zagunis could become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s individual fencing medalist ever. She carried the U.S. flag at the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Zagunis may continue to fence beyond the Rio de Janeiro Games.

“I don’t want to say Rio will be the last one, because who knows what’s going to happen there,” she said. “Fencing the way I fenced today kind of reinvigorated me.”

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Bryan brothers pull out of Olympics, won’t defend gold medal

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04:  (L-R) Silver medalist Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, gold medalist Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan of the United States and bronze medalist Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet of France pose on the podium during the medal ceremony after the Men's Doubles Tennis final match on Day 8 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on August 4, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Bob and Mike Bryan have pulled out of the Rio Games, less than a week before they were to begin defending their men’s doubles Olympic gold medal.

The Americans made the announcement on their Facebook page, citing their “family’s health,” but not directly concerns with the Zika virus, which has caused many other tennis players and golfers to withdraw.

“After countless hours of deliberation Mike and I have decided to forego the Rio Olympics. Though we’d love to compete again, as husbands and fathers, our family’s health is now our top priority,” they wrote.

The 38-year-old identical twin brothers are the second-ranked men’s pair in the world. They defeated Michael Llodra and France Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France for gold four years ago in London.

At the 2008 Beijing Games, they fell to Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland in the semifinals before knocking off Llodra and Arnaud Clement for bronze. The Bryan brothers were the No. 1 seed in both 2008 and ’12.

After winning gold in London, Bob and Mike went on to collect titles at the next four Grand Slams (2012 U.S. Open, 2013 Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon). The brothers have won a total of 16 Grand Slam titles together.

MORE: Tomas Berdych joins growing list of tennis players skipping Rio

Doping investigator ‘inundated with requests’ for more info on Russians

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Canadian lawyer who accused Russia of operating a state-run doping program is facing “a deluge of requests” for information on individual athletes implicated in his investigation.

Richard McLaren, who was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, issued a report that accused Russia’s sports ministry of overseeing doping among Olympic athletes in more than two dozen summer and winter sports.

The IOC rejected calls by WADA and other anti-doping bodies to ban Russia’s entire Olympic team from the Rio de Janeiro Games. Instead, the International Olympic Committee asked individual sports federations to determine which Russian athletes would be cleared to compete.

“My office has been inundated with requests for information on individual athletes,” McLaren said in a statement released late Friday from London, Ontario. “The (IOC) decision has resulted in a deluge of requests to provide information to the IFs (international federations); Russian national federations; the Russian Olympic Committee; the Russian Paralympic Committee and individual Russian athletes.”

McLaren said he has provided information to WADA that names athletes whose urine samples were part of a state-run cover-up.

“WADA in turn has shared this information with IFs,” he said.

More than 100 Russian athletes have been barred from the games so far – including the track and field team banned by the IAAF and more than 30 athletes excluded by other federations since the release of McLaren’s report. Russia’s entire weightlifting team was kicked out Friday.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Friday that 272 of the country’s original 387-strong team had been approved by international sports federations to compete in Rio.

The IOC has said that any Russian athlete with a prior sanction for doping would not be allowed into the games. Anyone implicated in McLaren’s report would also be excluded, the IOC said.

McLaren said his mandate has been extended to finish the investigation and “identify any further athletes that might have benefited from such manipulation to conceal positive doping tests.”

Until now, he said, the focus of his investigation was to look into evidence of a “state-dictated program which used the Moscow and Sochi laboratories to cover up doping.”

“It has not been to establish anti-doping rule violation cases against individual athletes,” McLaren said, adding that it was not his job to process doping cases against individual athletes.

“I have, however, received a considerable amount of reliable evidence, which clearly implicates individual athletes in the state-dictated program described in the report,” he said. “That evidence includes documents supported by the testimony of confidential witnesses and in some cases additional forensic and analytical evidence from the examination of sample bottles and their contents.”

McLaren said his ongoing investigation includes developing evidence which may be used in the future to sanction individual athletes.

“At this stage, I will not release any of the specific information I currently have concerning any athletes,” he said. “To do so would compromise the ongoing investigation.”

MORE: Entire Russian weightlifting team banned from Olympics