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She's looking forward to team saber even more than Olympic individual competition
by: HARRY HOW, Fencer Rebecca Ward of Cedar Mill leaves for Beijing on Tuesday, hoping for success in both the individual and team saber Olympic competitions.

With little more than a week until the Olympic opening ceremonies, Rebecca Ward still can't believe she's representing the United States fencing team in Beijing.

'I think I'm still a little bit in denial,' says Ward, who leaves Tuesday morning for China. 'I don't really feel like I'm going to the Olympics yet, so I'm sure that's going to hit me a little bit later.

'Right now, I feel like I'm packing for any other trip.'

Ward, an 18-year-old native of Cedar Mill, will compete in the women's saber event alongside Beaverton's Mariel Zagunis, who won the gold medal in 2004, and Sada Jacobson.

'I think it's going to be a really strong (U.S. team), especially for women's saber,' Ward says. 'I'm really excited to have my team event debut with the team we have because I feel so comfortable with them.'

The individual women's saber event begins on Aug. 9 - the first day of the Olympics.

'It's not that great, because you don't get to walk in the opening ceremony,' Ward says, 'but it will be nice to have that over and done with our first event. Then we can kind of let our focus off a little bit more than we would be able to and still keep our heads for the team event.'

The women's team event begins on Aug.14.

'I'm actually thinking I'm looking forward to the team event a little bit more,' Ward says. 'Just because if we do well, it's going to be such a team moment where we're all so happy, and I think that a little bit of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts is great.'

Ward has been ranked No. 1 in the world this year, but she is heading into the Olympics at No. 2, behind top-ranked Jacobson (Zagunis is fifth). Ward sees that as a positive.

'That's definitely a comfortable spot for me,' she says. 'It's one of the ideal ones. One and two are randomized, so I have a 50 percent chance of being 1 or 2.'

The rankings can change from event to event. Tan Xue of China has gone from No. 1 to 3, and 2007 world champ Elena Netchaeva of Russia is at No. 4 going into the Beijing Games.

Ward has had a superb year. She went 51-2 in the World Cup/Grand Prix season and is 51-3 overall, including a loss at the Junior World Championships. She won three of the four Grand Prixs she entered, two of the three World Cups she entered, and the Pan-American Championships. After the Olympics, Ward will begin her collegiate career as a freshman at Duke.

'I really liked the coach at Duke, and they have a good fencing program,' she says. 'It's a great fencing school. It really just had everything that I was looking for, and I really liked the atmosphere there.'

Ward, who will fence for the Blue Devils on a full athletic scholarship, hasn't decided on a major.

'I'm pretty undecided at the moment,' she says. 'Because I'm home schooled, I want to be exposed to a full range of things before I commit myself.'

While Ward will focus on fencing, she's also looking forward to another Duke men's basketball appearance in the Big Dance.

'I'm sad to say that I was, in fact, a football fan, but I think I'm going to have to turn to basketball, too,' she says, with a laugh.

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