Just because you haven’t heard of Mariel Zagunis doesn’t mean that she isn’t worthy of carrying the U.S. flag in the opening ceremony at the 2012 London Olympics.
Most predicted that Michael Phelps or another household name would earn the honor. However, while Zagunis isn’t as well known as Venus Williams or Natalie Coughlin, for example, she’s still a Team USA legend.
An all-world fencer, Zagunis won gold in the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics in the individual sabre competition. What's more, according to Bovada, she’s the betting favorite to win the event again this summer.
With a historic Olympic streak of dominance hanging in the balance, it’s no wonder why her 528 teammates voted her to represent the nation.
LJ Rader of NBC Olympics reported that Zagunis won’t take being the U.S. flag bearer for granted. She said:
I'm extremely humbled by this incredible privilege. 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.
Chief Executive of the United State Olympic Committee Scott Blackmun has no doubts that Zagunis is worthy of the responsibility, either. He said (via NBC Olympics):
I'd like to congratulate Mariel on this tremendous honor. 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.
Blackmun missed the point a bit, though, as to why Zagunis was selected. He noted the importance of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, but Zagunis wasn’t just selected to be the U.S. flag bearer because she’s a female. There are 268 other women on Team USA, after all.
Would any one of them be a justifiable selection?
No, Zagunis’ gender isn’t what makes her worthy to represent America. She’s worthy because she’s a champion, the face of a sport and everything an Olympian is supposed to be. Giving her credit for anything less than that is an insult.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.