Mariel Zagunis celebrates after defeating Ukraine's Olga Kharlan… (Christophe Ena / Associated…)
LONDON — Two-time Olympic champion fencer Mariel Zagunis was selected to lead the 529-member U.S. delegation into Friday's opening ceremony as flag bearer, the U.S. Olympic Committee announced.
Zagunis was chosen by a vote of members of Team USA.
"I'm extremely humbled by this incredible privilege," Zagunis said. "As an athlete, I can't imagine a higher honor than to lead Team USA into the Olympic Games..."
That announcement came after Michael Phelps had removed himself from consideration because his first event is Saturday morning and the opening ceremony could last until midnight Friday.
Many swimmers often skip it.
"One of the things that is very tough for swimmers that swim in the first couple of days is that we never go to opening ceremonies, just because you are standing for so many hours," Phelps said Wednesday. "Being on your feet for five or six hours takes a lot out of you. It does take days to recover after that."
Most of us have friends who look fine in a swimsuit but can look at their picture and find flaws. In fact, a recent study by Australian researchers concluded that even thinking about trying on a suit can ruin a woman's mood.
It is a sensitive topic.
Which might explain, in part, the reaction to the treatment of swim star Leisel Jones by the Australian media. There were less-than-flattering photos of Jones — a three-time Olympic gold medalist — at practice this week and stories raised questions about her fitness.
One Australian official called the coverage "disgraceful," in his daily media briefing on Wednesday. Several Australian swimmers and athletes from other sports jumped on Twitter to lash out at the media, lamenting the double standard in coverage of men and women.
Olympian Jessica Hardy of Long Beach has competed against Jones for years and had some thoughtful observations on the topic.
"Even leading up to the Games, I've noticed all these articles about who the hottest female Olympians are and it seems like that is almost as important or more important than our actual talent in the pool," Hardy said Wednesday.
"It's more pressure that we have to try to ignore, look past and not self-obsess over. It's a natural feeling to be insecure when you're in a suit every day. You've got to get over [that feeling] pretty quick."
David Beckham, who once seemed a shoo-in for the British Olympic soccer team, was ultimately passed over by Coach Stuart Pearce. But Pearce may be regretting that decision now, given the lack of interest in the soccer competition.
The women's competition opened Wednesday, two days before the official opening ceremony, with six matches including a doubleheader in Glasgow, Scotland, that saw the U.S. play France followed by Colombia versus North Korea. The 52,000-seat Hampden Park was less than a quarter full 20 minutes before kickoff, and Olympic officials said last week they were recalling 1 million soccer tickets and closing entire sections of some stadiums.
On Tuesday, Pearce held a pre-Games media conference in Manchester and only seven journalists showed. "We should have held it in my bedroom," Pearce said.
Meanwhile, Beckham entertained nearly 10 times that many people in an unannounced appearance at a London shopping center Monday. The Galaxy midfielder also confirmed this week he will have a role in Friday's opening ceremony.
Greek athlete expelled
Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou never made it to London, managing to be offensive on multiple levels, via Twitter.
She made racist comments on her Twitter account and did not back down right away, and kept on going by retweeting from a political party member from the far right. She finally apologized on social network outlets, but Greek officials said she had not shown "respect" for Olympic values and kicked her out of the Games before she even arrived.