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Olympic flagbearers mostly unknown to U.S. fans

Fencer and United States flag bearer Mariel Zagunis

Fencer and United States flag bearer Mariel Zagunis answers questions from the media during a United States Olympic Committee Executive Leadership Conference at the Tower Press Conference Room in London, England. (July 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty

Most Olympic sports -- and therefore a majority of the most accomplished Olympic athletes -- are unfamiliar to American audiences, and thus will the 204 flag bearers in London's Opening Ceremonies seem to be utter strangers.

Toting the Stars & Stripes ahead of the U.S. delegation, for instance, will be a fencer, Mariel Zagunis. Her resume, in brief: Two-time Olympic gold medalist in women's sabre.

When Zagunis won her first gold, at the 2004 Athens Olympics, she had been a last-minute substitute after Nigeria chose not to send its entrant. Even before that, though, Zagunis had Olympic roots: Her parents, Robert and Cathy, met at the 1976 U.S. Olympic rowing trials and both competed in the Montreal Games.

Meanwhile, aside from Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the most recognizable flag bearers to U.S. observers almost all come from the sport of tennis.

Five-time major tournament champion Novak Djokovic will carry Serbia's flag. Four-time Grand Slam tournament winner Maria Sharapova (who lives in Bradenton, Fla.) will tote the flag from her native Russia. Current No. 2 women's player Agnieszka Radwanska will lead Poland's contingent.

Also, Max Mirnyi, currently the top-ranked doubles player in the world (and another Bradenton resident), will carry the Belarus flag. (Among Mirnyi's accomplishments are two U.S. Open mixed doubles titles, teaming with Serena Williams). Marcos Baghdatis, the feisty No. 44 player from Cyprus, will lead his nation's delegation.

Rafael Nadal had been scheduled to be Spain's flag bearer until he was forced to withdraw from the Olympics with an injury. His replacement, American basketball fans will notice, is Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol.

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