Mariel Zagunis, the two-time gold medalist in sabre, has been named the U.S. flagbearer for Friday's Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. Zagunis, who was chosen by her peers for the honor, will be the first fencer to carry the flag since 1968, when Janice Lee Romary led the U.S. team in Mexico City.
"I'm extremely humbled by this incredible privilege," Zagunis said in a statement on the Team USA site. "As an athlete, I can't imagine a higher honor than to lead Team USA into the Olympic Games, which are the pinnacle of sport and a platform for world peace. I am tremendously proud to represent my sport, our team and, most importantly, the United States of America."
In 2004, Zagunis became the first American fencer to win Olympic gold in 100 years. Her parents are former Olympians, having competed in the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal.
In an interview with NPR's Tom Goldman earlier this year, Zagunis, a Beaverton, Oregon, native, called sabre fencers the "punk rockers" of the fencing world.
"You have to be more aggressive and explosive and kind of crazy," she says. "I think that kind of plays into our personality."
But she also explained the sport's intellectual — even psychological — challenges.
"Zagunis recalls the chesslike qualities of her bout with fellow American Becca Ward in the semifinals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics," Tom reported.
"It really came down to knowing what her tendencies were, knowing what she thinks she can use against me and not letting her do that," Zagunis explained, "while at the same time executing something different. I had to mix it up. You're four or five steps ahead."
Zagunis will be four or five steps ahead once again Friday, when she leads her teammates onto the track at London's Olympic Stadium.