About the Women Who Have Carried the U.S. Flag into the Olympic Opening Ceremonies

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When fencer Mariel Zagunis was announced as the U.S. flagbearer for the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies, she became just the sixth woman to ever carry the flag for the U.S.

THE FIRST WOMAN TO CARRY THE FLAG FOR THE UNITED STATES

The first was Janice Lee Romary at the 1968 Opening Ceremonies in Mexico City. Like Zagunis, Romary too was a fencer. By the time she arrived in Mexico City, Romary was gearing up for her sixth Olympic Games. She never won a medal, but she competed in every Olympic foil fencing competition from 1948-1968. Romary died in 2007.

DISCUS THROWER CARRIES FLAG FOUR YEARS LATER

After Romary, Olga Fikotová was the next woman to carry the flag for the United States in 1972. Fikotová competed in her first Olympic Games for Czechoslovakia in 1956, where she won a gold medal in the discus throw event.

There, she also met and fell in love with American hammer throw gold medalist Harold Connolly. Soon, the couple married and moved to the United States. Fikotová wanted to keep competing for Czechoslovakia but was unable to do so due to actions by the Czechoslovakian Olympic Committee. Fikotová went on to compete for the United States in every Olympic Games through 1972. She and Connolly were divored 17 years after they married.

SPRINTER ASHFORD LEADS U.S. TEAM TO OLYMPICS

Evelyn Ashford did the honor of leading the U.S. delegation into the 1988 Opening Ceremonies. The 1988 Olympics marked the third Games in which Ashford competed, and she would go on to compete in fourth in 1992. During her career, the 100-meter sprinter won four gold medals and one silver medal, each of which came in either the 100-meter or the 4x100-meter relay.

Ashford was twice named the "Track and Field Athlete of the Year," and she was a two-time world-record holder. She ran in her final Olympic Games in 1992 at the age of 35.

VERSATILE DISTANCE RUNNER BEARS FLAG IN 1992

Francie Laurrieu-Smith was named the U.S. flagbearer just four years after Ashford. By 1992, Laurrieu-Smith was a five-time Olympian and had competed in races ranging from the 800-meter to the marathon. Her best finish came in 1988, when she placed fifth in the 10,000-meter event. In 1992, she finished 12th in the marathon.

Today, Laurrieu -Smith is the head men's and women's cross country coach at Southwestern University, and she's actively involved in coaching U.S. teams. In fact, in 2011, she was named an assistant coach for the 2011 Pan American Games.

BASKETBALL PLAYER CARRIES THE FLAG IN ATHENS

During her Olympic basketball career, Dawn Staley earned three gold medals with her USA teammates. In 2004, she was honored by being chosen as the U.S. flagbearer for the Opening Ceremonies at the Athens Olympic Games.

In 2011, Staley was named on of the top 15 players in WNBA history, and she was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2012. Staley spent more than 10 years with Team USA basketball and more than eight years in the WNBA. Today, she is the women's head coach at South Carolina University.

ZAGUNIS FOLLOWS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF PREVIOUS FEMALE FLAGBEARERS

In 2012, Zagunis will carry the flag and lead the U.S. team into the Opening Ceremonies. Zagunis is a two-time gold medalist in sabre fencing, and in 2004, she became the first American to win a fencing gold medal for the United States in more than 100 years.

Zagunis has never been beaten in a sabre fencing competition at the Olympic Games, and she plans to continue to compete through the 2016 Games, she's said.

Read more from this author: The Last Five Americans to Carry the Flag into Olympic Opening Ceremonies

Sandra Johnson is a longtime Olympic fan. While working for the United States Olympic Committee and living in the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., Johnson had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Olympic Movement. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46.

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