Former University of Notre Dame fencing All-American and national champion, and two-time Olympic gold medalist Mariel Zagunis has been selected to lead the 529-member United States Olympic Team as the American flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics on Friday night in London, England (coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on WNDU).
Zagunis was chosen for the prestigious honor by a vote of her fellow Team USA members, it was announced Wednesday by the United States Olympic Committee.
“I’m extremely humbled by this incredible privilege,” Zagunis said. “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.”
“I’d like to congratulate Mariel on this tremendous honor,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun. “It’s especially fitting in the year of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, when Team USA for the first time in history has more women than men, that Mariel receive the extraordinary honor that is carrying our nation’s flag into this celebration of humanity.”
Zagunis will be the third fencer to serve as the United States flag bearer for the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Norman Armitage earned the honor in 1952 (Helsinki) and 1956 (Melbourne), as did Janice Lee Romary in 1968 (Mexico City). Zagunis also is the sixth woman chosen to be the U.S. flag bearer, a privilege previously bestowed upon Romary (1968), track standouts Olga Fikotova Connolly (1972 - Munich), Evelyn Ashford (1988 - Seoul) and Francie Larrieu Smith (1992 - Barcelona), and basketball great Dawn Staley (2004 - Athens).
Zagunis became the first United States fencer in 100 years to earn an Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games when she shocked the fencing world by rising to the top of the sabre competition after being promoted from alternate status when a Nigerian fencer dropped out.
Zagunis successfully defended her Olympic title in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, joining U.S. women’s soccer players Shannon Boxx (’99) and Kate (Sobrero) Markgraf (’98) as former Notre Dame athletes to win two Olympic gold medals (the pair also won their titles in ’04 and ’08, with Boxx competing for the United States again this summer).
Zagunis also earned a bronze medal in the 2008 team sabre competition, and with a medal in London, she would tie former Fighting Irish track & field All-American/head coach Alex Wilson (’32) for the the most medals won by a Notre Dame athlete in Olympic competition — Wilson earned four medals for his native Canada at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics (bronze in 4x400-meter relay) and the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics (silver in 800 meters; bronze in both 400 meters and 4x400-meter relay).
The Olympic fencing competitions are one-day events for each weapon, beginning with preliminaries in the morning and continuing through the medal bouts in the afternoon. Zagunis will compete in the individual sabre event on Aug. 1, with the medal bouts scheduled to start at 2:40 p.m. ET and will be shown live on MSNBC and nbcolympics.com.
While competing at Notre Dame from 2004-06, Zagunis helped the Fighting Irish win the 2005 NCAA national championship while finishing as the NCAA individual runner-up in women’s sabre. A year later, she earned the NCAA individual national title in women’s sabre. Prior to the 2006-07 season, she elected to turn professional and give up her remaining collegiate eligibility, finishing her abbreviated Notre Dame career with a staggering 75-3 (.962) record, still the all-time best winning percentage by a women’s sabreist in school history (as is her 46-2, .958 winning percentage in ’05-06).