Despite being one of the most successful Olympic athletes on the Team USA roster, few would have recognized the name Mariel Zagunis before Wednesday.
That all changed after she was elected as the flag bearer for the U.S. Olympic team.
Zagunis will lead the country with the most athletes in the Games through Olympic Stadium in London in the first Summer Games in which the U.S. women outnumber the men. The two-time Olympic gold medalist in the individual sabre, one of the three events in fencing, now has the country's attention and rightfully so.
"It means the world to me," Zagunis told reporters. "I didn't get to walk in the opening ceremony in 2004 ... this is a cherry on top of a pile of cherries that are already there.''
The Beaverton, Ore., native was born to be an Olympian -- both parents were Olympic rowers in the 1976 Summer Games. In 2002, she made history and became the first American fencer to be crowned Junior World Cup Champion. She went on to hold the title for three consecutive years.
In 2004, despite her talent, Zagunis was the highest ranked American fencer not to qualify for the Athens Games. It appeared as though she would have to wait another four years to make her Olympic debut. However, she was named as a replacement athlete at the last minute when Nigeria gave up slot in the draw.
While she may have entered the Games with luck, Zagunis proved she deserved to be in Athens among the world's best. Competing in the individual sabre, she shocked the fencing world and captured the first U.S. gold medal in fencing in over a century. From that point on, Zagunis was in full stride.
In 2004, she became a student at the University of Notre Dame, and was the 2005 NCAA Team Champion and 2006 NCAA Sabre champion. Zagunis left Notre Dame midway through her junior year and chose to turn professional so she could focus on training for the 2008 Games.
The choice paid off, and in the 2008 Beijing Games, Zagunis solidified her position as one of the greatest fencers in U.S. history as she took home the individual sabre gold medal. She was also a member of the bronze medal sabre team.
Two NCAA titles, three Olympic, and eight World Championship medals later, Zagunis is the one to beat at the London Games. She has won nearly every title there is to win in the sport of fencing and is ranked No. 1 in the world. She is considered the heavy favorite to win gold in the individual sabre and sabre team competitions, and as she says on her Web site, she expects to come out on top.
While most people did not expect Zagunis to become the flag bearer for Team USA, there is no doubt that she is more than deserving. At age 27, she is not only one of the greatest fencers in the sport's history, but also the most prominent figure in the sport.
Fans can watch Zagunis compete for a gold medal three-peat on Wednesday, Aug. 1.