Monday, January 22, 2018
Sports

U.S. flag bearer Mariel Zagunis is fitting choice for 2012 Olympic team

LONDON

When she walks into the arena, you will notice the flag in her hands and the smile on her face.

Not that long ago, you might have noticed the sword in her hands and the tears in her eyes.

The best Olympic stories always begin at the bottom, when an athlete's insides are twisting in agony. That's where the golden journeys usually begin, on the wrong side of a scoreboard.

And so it was with Mariel Zagunis, who will serve as flag bearer when the United States marches into the Olympic Stadium tonight. Once, she was as upset as any athlete you could imagine, and then she won in one of the biggest upsets of them all. Because of that, the finest athletes her country can offer will walk in her footsteps.

Here, in the year of the female athlete, who could be better?

This, after all, is the 40th year of Title IX, the legislation that has made the women of the United States such a force in the Olympics.

For the first time, more women are on the United States team (268) than men (261).

For the first time, every nation in the Olympics has a female athlete. Here's the thing they have in common: None of them wants to get into a sword fight with Zagunis, not on a castle wall and not in competition.

Ah, but back to the tears. It was March of 2004, and Zagunis had just lost a 15-14 decision to Sada Jacobson in saber at the United States Olympic trials. She left the arena weeping. Her Olympic chance was over. She had taken a year away from college to train for it, and now she was destined to be haunted by that one-point difference forever.

Until Zaire exited, that is.

Weeks before the Games, Zaire decided not to send its saber fencer to the Games in Athens. That meant a slot was open for the highest-ranked women who had been left out. Zagunis had fresh mettle.

Weeks later, she won the gold, the first fencing gold for the United States in 100 years. As far as upsets in the Summer Olympics go, you can put that one up with Rulon Gardner and Billy Mills and the '72 Russian basketball team.

Four years later in Beijing, Zagunis did it again, this time beating Jacobson in the final.

Evidently, her teammates were paying attention. It took four tries to break a tie in the voting for the 2012 flag bearer, but the flag ended up in the hands of Zagunis. Now, as she says, all she has to worry about is "not tripping and not letting the flag touch the ground."

In the history of the Summer Olympics, only five other women have carried the flag for the United States. Before 1972, the year Title IX was enacted, there had been one. Forty years ago, 21 percent of the United States team was female. This year, it is 51 percent.

None of that is lost on Zagunis, 27.

"I am where I am today because of the women who paved the way for me, basically," Zagunis said. "They were the ones who fought for our rights. I grew up with so many opportunities that maybe wouldn't exist in another time. For me, it wasn't whether I would play a sport, it's what sport I would play. It wasn't whether I could go the Olympics, it's how many I would go to."

Four decades later, you can still get into a fairly spirited debate over Title IX and how it affects the rest of college athletics. For women's athletics, however, it is the law that changed everything, the legislation that allowed American women to be among the best in the world.

Tamika Catchings, the U.S. basketball player, can recite all the names: Wilma Rudolph and Althea Gibson and Billie Jean King and Cheryl Miller, who had to struggle for everything they got along the way. Then she mentions another name: Wanda Catchings.

"My mother and I used to go to the playground, and then we would race home, and she would always win," said Catchings, 33. "She was fast. She could have run track or played tennis or competed in anything she wanted to compete in, but she never had the opportunity."

"I've talked to some of these women and heard their stories," said Catchings' teammate Sue Bird, 31. "I never didn't have an opportunity. Sports are important. You learn a lot of things about working with others that you use in whatever job you end up with."

Things like resiliency when things seem hopeless. Things like success when no one expects it. Things like the achieving of dreams.

For Zagunis, and for the rest of the United States women, that's sort of the point.

Comments
HomeTeam Hot Shot winners: Misha O’Neal and Tyrick Brascom

HomeTeam Hot Shot winners: Misha O’Neal and Tyrick Brascom

Misha O’Neal, Countryside The Cougars’ 69-63 overtime win against Clearwater last week had a little extra meaning to O’Neal. The guard transferred from Clearwater after last season. O’Neal led all scorers with 23 points and added nine steals. "We al...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
Oh Gahd, the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl! Don’t worry, lots of new story lines for LII vs. E-A-G-L-E-S

Oh Gahd, the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl! Don’t worry, lots of new story lines for LII vs. E-A-G-L-E-S

TAMPA – Unless you are a Chowd who drives the cah wicked fah and pahks in the yahd, you probably aren't all that jacked up about the Patriots returning to Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis. Anybody but Bill Belichick...
Updated: 1 hour ago
A top-heavy lineup for district girls soccer

A top-heavy lineup for district girls soccer

Girls soccer super seven1. Newsome (18-0): The Wolves have been completely dominant this season. They have outscored opponents 114-3. Let that sink in. They are ranked 44th nationally by MaxPreps and fifth in the state in Class 5A. Sophie Shrader has...
Updated: 1 hour ago
USF sets 2-game football series with N.C. State

USF sets 2-game football series with N.C. State

USF announced Monday it has reached a home-and-home football deal with North Carolina State, the second ACC team to be added to the Bulls' future football slate in less than a week.The Bulls announced Thursday they'll play a two-for-one deal with Lou...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning’s Ondrej Palat to be out six to eight weeks

Lightning’s Ondrej Palat to be out six to eight weeks

The Lightning will be without Ondrej Palat six to eight weeks. And  Tampa Bay is still ticked by how Palat got hurt.The Wild's Jared Spurgeon slashed/speared the back of the Lightning wing's right ankle on a power play Saturday."It's a huge loss...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Jordan Miner, Isaiah Bolden shine in International Bowl

Jordan Miner, Isaiah Bolden shine in International Bowl

Four months ago, Wiregrass Ranch's Jordan Miner and Wesley Chapel's Isaiah Bolden squared off against each other in a highly anticipated matchup between two of the area's most heavily recruited players in the class of 2018.This past weekend, the two ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Matt Peca, Michael Bournival hope to spark Lightning

Matt Peca, Michael Bournival hope to spark Lightning

When Matt Peca had his best training camp with the Lightning back in September, coach Jon Cooper said he learned the 5-foot-9 forward was someone the Lightning would be able to count on at some point this season.Turns out, that time is now.Peca, 27, ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
HomeTeam 25: Girls basketball rankings for Tampa Bay

HomeTeam 25: Girls basketball rankings for Tampa Bay

1. Alonso (16-1)This week: Wednesday at Jefferson, Thursday at FreedomThe buzz: Another undefeated week for the Ravens, who picked up an impressive win over Tampa Bay Tech on Tuesday. Senior Ariel Scott had 17 points and sophomore Carly Price added 1...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Brent Honeywell, Willy Adames lead Rays prospects in Baseball America’s top 100

Brent Honeywell, Willy Adames lead Rays prospects in Baseball America’s top 100

The Rays had two players in the top 20 and six overall in Baseball America's annual ranking of the game's top 100 prospects.RHP Brent Honeywell heads the Rays contingent at No. 14 with shortstop Willy Adames at No. 19.The other ranked Rays are 1B/LHP...
Updated: 6 hours ago
USF men on pace to make history … in a good way

USF men on pace to make history … in a good way

Bizarre as it seems, a season that appears destined to be historically bad for the USF men's basketball team could have a historically good subplot.Brian Gregory's club, winless in American Athletic Conference play, is on pace to be USF's best free-t...
Updated: 6 hours ago