At just 26, Alexander Massialas is on the verge of becoming a three-time Olympian in fencing. He already has a silver medal from the 2016 Rio Games in the individual foil and a bronze in the team event – making him the first US man to win two fencing medals in the same Olympic Games in more than a century.
It’s exactly how his dad Greg had envisaged in the late 90’s. A two-time Olympian himself, Greg could never reach the podium.
His best bet was at the 1980 Moscow Games, when he was at his peak, but the United States’ decision to boycott the Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan meant Greg had to wait till 1984 Los Angeles Games to make his debut. He made another appearance at the 1988 Seoul Games, but his best years had passed him.
Greg became an international referee and forged a career in advertising in San Francisco. His wife Vivian, who was born in Taiwan, was the one who encouraged him to start coaching. The Massialas Foundation fencing club was born in 1998.
Since then, the senior Massialas had only one aim: to produce Olympic champions. While his son fell just short of realising that dream – losing to Italy’s Daniele Garozzo in the gold medal match in Rio – Greg has consistently churned out fencers at his San Francisco club. But Alexander still is his star pupil and remains his best bet for that elusive gold medal at Olympics.
Alexander didn’t take long to fall in love with fencing and started to train under his dad in the second grade. His sister Sabrina – three years younger than him – followed him onto the strip when she was just six. Now the Massialas family will be making a trip to Tokyo Games after Sabrina qualified for her maiden Olympics at the FIE Grand Prix event in Doha last month.
“When my sister qualified for the Olympics, it was such an emotional moment for us in the family. We gave her a hug but she was running through so many emotions and it was yet to sink in for her,” said Alexander, who also competed in Doha.
“As an older brother, I was proud and happy for her. She has watched me compete at two Olympics from the stands and now she will participate in it. It will be amazing to go to Tokyo with my sister and dad,” he added.
With his dad also doubling up as coach of the US team, the pressure is bound to be there but Alexander said it only motivates him to become a better fencer. “For me and my sister it was the love for fencing why we took it up. When we are fencing, he is a coach not my dad and when we are not fencing, he is my dad and not a coach. I don’t take anything to heart when he is training me. He is just trying to get the best of me and make me a better fencer. There is no additional pressure. If anything, he motivates me. He has been such a great influence for me and my sister,” says Alexander.
A Stanford alum with a mechanical engineering degree, Alexander qualified for the Tokyo Games at the World Cup in Cairo in February 2020. But just as he started to chart his plans, the pandemic ravaged through the world with tournaments, including the Tokyo Olympics, either cancelled or postponed.
“It’s been a difficult last one year for everyone,” Alexander says. “After the pandemic broke in last March, all the tournaments were cancelled or postponed. It wasn’t easy not to be competing or training but the health and safety of the athletes was more important.
“I had already qualified for the Olympics, so I started training outdoors with my dad. We put a fencing strip in our backyard. That was the first time I had trained outdoors. But we couldn’t train indoors at our academy as it wasn’t safe and we had to take into account the safety of everyone. Obviously, the training was different but it’s an experience I will never forget,” he adds.
Having already equalled his dad’s feat of qualifying for three Olympics, Alexander is hungry for more, with a burning desire of donning an Olympic gold medal around his neck.
“My ambition is to be an Olympic champion. After that I want to keep going on in the sport and take it day by day. I have not set any long-term goals other than doing well at the Tokyo Olympics. I don’t want to go far ahead in terms of goals. I am 26 now and would certainly want to compete at my fourth Olympics in Paris in 2024. To compete in the 2028 Olympics, which will be held in Los Angeles would also be great as it will be in my hometown. My dad competed at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, so it would be fitting for me to be part of the 2028 Olympics at home,” Alexander says.
The FIE Grand Prix in Doha last month was the first fencing event in a year, while Alexander did not have a great outing he was pleased to take part in a competition and was full of praise for the organisers.
“Personally, I didn’t do really well as I would have liked but I didn’t do badly either. It was good to be back competing in a tournament. The organisation and facilities were top class. The safety protocols were strictly followed by the organisers. The US team did really well with two of my teammates winning gold and bronze, so I was really happy for them. This event will surely act as a stepping stone for the Tokyo Olympics,” he says.
“I prefer to compete in tournaments rather than training. There is no better way to test yourselves than in a competition environment. There is a lot of room for improvement but I am happy to get into the groove. I want to get into my best shape before the Olympics,” he adds.
After the Grand Prix, Alexander along with his dad, had a chance to take a tour of Qatar and the Rio Olympic silver medallist was impressed by what he witnessed.
“It was an amazing experience. We went to Sealine for dune bashing and it was a unique thing I have never experienced before. The driver pulled off some cool manoeuvres in the sand. Then we had lunch at Katara and also went to Mushreib, Museum of Islamic Art and National Museum of Qatar, which was really great. To experience Qatar’s culture and diversity was amazing,” he says.
On Qatar’s plans to bid for the 2032 Olympics, Alexander is all for the Games to be held in different locations, which are culturally diverse.
“Qatar’s bid to host the Olympic Games in 2032 is great. I don’t know much about their bid but it would be nice if the Olympics are held in different locations, which are culturally diverse. It would be a very nice experience. I would love to see the Olympics going into different locations around the world,” he says.
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