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2016 Olympics: Stanford fencing star Alexander Massialas ranked No. 1, primed for gold

RIO DE JANEIRO -- As a child in his Bay Area home, Alexander Massialas didn’t have to go far for Olympic motivation. The iconic five colored rings could be found frequently throughout his house, the result of three trips to summer games by his father, Greg, as a prodigious fencer for Team USA.

But now Massialas is on his way to assuming the title of “greatest fencer in American history,” a legacy that can be realized on Sunday as he enters the individual foil competition at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

His aim? Nothing short of a gold medal. Such are the expectations when you’re ranked the No. 1 foil fencer in the world and entering your prime at the age of 22.

“Everyone loves to gun for the No. 1 spot. But I like it,” Massialas said. “It helps me push my game to a whole ‘nother level. Just getting to No. 1 doesn’t mean you can let down. Just because everyone’s looking at you and trying to take you down -- it’s the best motivation for you to keep getting better and keep the No. 1 spot.”

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Though he might be young, Massialas is already accustomed to the bright lights of fencing on an Olympic stage. As an 18-year-old fresh out of high school in 2012, Massialas represented Team USA at the London games, placing 13th. Admittedly, he might have been a little too starstruck by the event, too enamored to be sharing Team USA’s quarters at the Olympic village with some of his NBA idols from the men’s basketball team.

But he’s older, wiser and more focused now. If he’s not training or getting treatment, Massialas said he’s content watching Netflix (specifically binge-watching the series “Stranger Things”) with his teammates rather than sightseeing and taking in the Olympic vibe. Massialas said he’s also benefitted from spending three years on Stanford’s campus since his last Olympic appearance.

“I think I’ve grown in all facets,” Massialas said. “Physically, I’m obviously stronger than I was four years ago. I’m mentally stronger. Between just getting more and more experience, as far as competing goes. Even academics can help push you to another level. Even my random mechanical engineering classes help the brain. I think it actually really helps me for fencing, staying sharp and getting pushed in all facets at Stanford.”

 

 

Here we go again #Rio2016

A photo posted by Alexander Massialas (@amassialas) on

 

While at Stanford, Massialas has put together a remarkable career. He claimed the NCAA foil titles in 2013 and 2015, while finishing as a national semi-finalist during his sophomore year. In a few weeks, he’ll return to The Farm to wrap up his senior year, hopefully with a little extra hardware from Rio.

Stanford is currently the only Pac-12 school with a varsity fencing program, but Massialas is hoping he can help elevate and promote the sport in the future. It’s something that runs in the family, as his father has become perhaps the country’s greatest ambassador for the sport, helping raise the profile of Team USA fencing during his four years as head coach. Now the Americans feature some of the best fencers in the world, and have a shot at bringing home a first-ever gold medal in the team competition.

It’s not just his dad who will be alongside Alexander in Rio, as his sister, Sabrina, is also an elite fencer and helping as a training partner.

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Greg Massialas served as an alternate in the 1976 games, before competing in 1984 and 1988 following the Team USA boycott for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. He eventually settled down in the Bay Area and opened a fencing club, but had a rule that no kid could start until the age of 7. Alexander included. Despite developing an interest to start fencing at the age of 5, he had to wait patiently until April 20, 2001.

“That’s how I knew from the very beginning -- I wasn’t his son in fencing club, I was just another student,” Alexander said, adding that his father still doesn’t give him any special treatment. “I waited until my seventh birthday, and finally the day came and I was ready to start.”

So, is this just beginning of an epic reign for Massialas? He sure looks poised to bring home the first male gold medal in Team USA fencing history, and possibly more in the future.

“Obviously, ever since I was a kid I wanted to win that gold medal,” Massialas said. “This was a dream ever since I wanted to be in the Olympics. To have a chance to realize that dream would be an awesome feeling. Especially for a team that hasn’t had a male champion. To be on a U.S. team that, in general, has just been so successful, it would be amazing to add my story, add my accolades to such a groundbreaking team.”

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