Vezzali happy to be woman to beat
Valentina Vezzali is bidding for a fourth successive gold medal at London 2012
If Italy's flag-bearing fencer Valentina Vezzali is seen trying to hurry things along or making a swift exit at Friday night's Olympic opening ceremony there is a good reason.
The 38-year-old's bid for an historic fourth successive gold medal in the women's individual foil is the first event of the fencing programme at the ExCeL Arena on Saturday - and competition starts at 10.30am.
While Britain's Natalia Shepherd and just about everyone else in the event is planning an early night, Vezzali has accepted one of the highest honours her country can give her.
When President Giorgio Napolitano handed her the flag at a special ceremony before leaving for London Vezzali described it as "very, very emotional, like when you place the winning jab".
The world number one expects to be "full of fire to represent Italy to the best" when she leads the team out and hopes the adrenalin rush will still be in her system when she steps onto the piste.
Only three Olympians - Carl Lewis in the long jump (1984-96), fellow American Al Oerter in the discus (1956-68) and Danish sailor Paul Elvstrom (1948-60) - have won individual golds in four successive Games, so Vezzali has the chance to become the first woman.
"I am aware that I will be the athlete to beat. But this has been so for years and also gives me strength and motivation," said the police officer, married to ex-footballer Domenico Giugliano.
Her main rival could be team-mate Elisa Di Francisca, who beat her in the European Championships in Sheffield last year, although Vezzali avenged that three months later when they clashed in the final again at the World Championships on home soil.
That was her sixth individual world title, but it is in the Olympics where she has achieved her main fame. Her debut came in Atlanta in 1996 and she took individual silver and team gold. Since then she has been unbeaten individually and has also added another team gold and a bronze four years ago in Beijing.
If she was to win the individual and team foil this time her seven golds would be the most by any Italian in any sport in Olympic history, beating the six of fellow fencers Nedo Nadi and Edoardo Mangiarotti.
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