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16 for 2016: Alexander Massialas – Men’s Foil

10/16/2015, 9:30am CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

As Team USA prepares for the Rio Olympic Games to begin less than 300 days from today, USA Fencing is sitting down with hopefuls for the 2016 Olympic Games to ask each 16 questions about their Road to Rio.

In this first edition, we catch up with London Olympian Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) during a training camp prior to the start of the San Jose Men’s Foil World Cup where he will fence less than an hour from home this weekend. Massialas gives us the update on what he’s been up to since winning silver at the Senior Worlds, his new musical skills and training for Rio …

Q1: The last time we saw you was at Worlds this summer when you won the silver medal. What’s it like looking back on that experience two months later?

It was an amazing experience to have my best result ever. Especially at the World Championships where I generally haven’t fenced as well as I usually can. My results have been pretty lackluster at Worlds even though my World Cup seasons have been pretty strong. It had bothered me for a long time that even though I had seasons where I’d get multiple World Cup medals, I’d never made the top eight at a World Championships. So finally being able to break through and not only do well, but also win a silver medal at the Worlds was an amazing experience and shows that I belong here and that I have a chance for a gold medal in Rio.

Q2: So after Worlds, I know you had a chance to take some time off. What did you do with your break?

The first part I just hung around San Francisco and Stanford because most of my friends were either living in San Francisco or Stanford. I think the highlight of my summer was definitely going to Hawaii. I went to Hawaii with like 20 other Stanford college kids and we stayed in this beach house that we all paid for and it was an amazing beach house with an infinity pool and whatnot, but it was supposed to sleep eight people so everyone was sleeping somewhere else on different nights. I probably spent most of my nights sleeping in a movie theater in movie theater chairs, but I’ve grown accustomed to random hotels all over the place, friends couches, floors, whatever. I can pretty much sleep wherever. It was an incredible house, but it was definitely only supposed to sleep eight people. I guess that’s why the trip was so cheap. [Laughs] People were sleeping on beach chairs outside, there was this cabana thing and people slept there. The movie theater definitely slept five or six people a night. It was pretty insane. It was my favorite place to sleep because it was the only place where there’s no outside windows, so no light was getting in so it was actually perfect because it was pitch black the whole time.

It was an amazing trip because we were on the Big Island and cell service wasn’t as great where we were, so most of the time people weren’t even using their cell phones. So it was good to kind of get away and get off the grid. There was also tons of naturey stuff every day – going on hikes, swimming in the ocean. Cliff jumping. A week in Hawaii was definitely the perfect end to the summer. It was right before classes started, so it was like a last hurrah before they went back to school and I went back to training.

Q3: We hear you’ve picked up guitar now …

I’ve always thought it would be a cool thing to learn so now that I have a year off from school, I’ll have a way to occupy my mind with something besides just fencing. Instead of just fencing and watching video and not doing anything else, I thought it was something good to keep my mind sharp and keep me improvising and whatnot. And also I just like learning. I like to keep my mind engaged. Seeing Gerek [Meinhardt] and David [Willette] go through taking a year off last time around, they obviously stopped school and I thought I’d go a little crazy if I didn’t have something else to do, so I figured guitar was one thing I always wanted to learn and never did, so it was a good time to pick it up.

I’m learning from a teacher in San Francisco. I’ve only had a few lessons, but I can already play a couple songs and plenty of my friends at school play. So any time I’m back there, I’ll use their guitars and they’ll teach me new stuff so I’m just picking it up here and there as much as possible. I just think it’s a really cool instrument and there’s so many things you can do. I’ve always wanted to be the guy around the campfire playing the guitar. That would be pretty cool.

Q4: What songs do you know?

So far I know “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley, “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Blackbird” by The Beatles. I definitely love Blackbird. It’s one of my favorite songs and it’s not actually as hard to play as people think. It’s probably the song I picked up the quickest.  

Q5: Is it true every rock song only has three chords?

Not EVERY rock song as three chords. I’m not going to say it’s not true, but [laughs] ... It’s obviously a lot more intricate than that, but the basic chords they use for most rock songs are fairly simple. C, D, G are used for almost every single rock song though.

Q6: Other than playing the guitar, what is one thing people don’t know about you?

I feel like I’m a pretty open book. I guess I can’t use that I know Mandarin anymore because everyone knows that. So I guess it would be that if I had to do a sport other than fencing it would be basketball. I’m a huge basketball fan. Love basketball. Golden State Warriors. Live and die. You don’t know how happy it made me to finally see them win. We went through some dark, dark, dark years when I was a kid and we still loved them. They still had a sold out arena. I still went to games when I was a kid even though we were so bad. But that’s why I love the Bay Area because we love our sports. Even when we’re terrible, we still love our teams.

Q7: You’ve been at Stanford for three years. How’s it been living back home again while you’re training for Rio?

It’s fun in a different way. Finally I’m just able to focus on fencing full time and not have to worry about school. I’m finally able to get enough sleep every night, whereas last year I was probably getting five or six hours a night between all of the schoolwork and fencing. It’s definitely good to be able to focus on the task and hand, but also, this is the first year I’ve ever spent doing just fencing by itself. It’s a little bit odd, but I like it and it does help that Stanford is only 40 minutes from here so I can see my friends during the weekends.

Q8: Do you have a curfew?

Not really, but I like to keep myself fairly in check too because if I’m going to take the year off to train, than I should take this pretty seriously. I try not to stay out too late.

Q9: You’re competing this weekend at a home World Cup and had that experience in San Francisco last year. What did you learn from last year and what are you looking forward to this year?

Last year I underperformed to say the least. It was an amazing experience to have it so close to home and to have friends and family come watch me. But also, because it was at home, I actually stayed in my own house and probably didn’t focus like I should have. The routine is always that you go to the hotel and you’re isolated from everyone. Last year, I was home with my parents … But I just don’t think I was necessarily in the right mindset. I drove from Stanford after pulling almost an all-nighter on this problem set that I just finished and I just don’t think I was in the right mindset for it, but this time around I know what to be careful of. I can definitely say I’m a lot more focused for this event. I’m in the right mindset. It’s close to home, but I’ll be staying at a hotel away from most of my friends and family and staying with the team. Friends and family will be there when I compete, but I’m treating it like it’s just another competition.

Q10: What is it that makes the U.S. Men’s Foil Team so successful?

I think it’s that we’re so different. I think that’s one of our greatest attributes. First of all, our fencing is all completely different, so when someone tries to study us as a team they really have to study all four people individually as well. When you study teams with obvious styles, it becomes “oh, I know this guy and the others are very similar.” Whereas when you study us, we’re four completely different fencers. I think it’s safe to say that Miles [Chamley-Watson] fences completely different than Race [Imboden] who also fences completely different from me and Gerek and that gives us an advantage. Also, we all have different ideas to bring to the table. Everyone has something different to contribute and we’re not all saying the same thing. It’s just really good to have a bunch of ideas floating around.

Q11: As the kid of an Olympian, do you ever feel pressure to fence?

I think it was the exact opposite. When I was younger, I would come to the club because it was better than daycare or whatever and, as a kid, I’d be four or five years old really excited because this is what I wanted to do. I grew up in a house with tons of foils everywhere and the Olympic rings everywhere. I’d always had an interest in taking up the sport and when my dad started his own fencing club it was a perfect segue into it, but my dad had this strict rule that kids couldn’t fence until they turned seven years old and some days I was ecstatic to be in the club because this was really what I wanted to do and other days when I’d be pouting in the corner because he wouldn’t let me participate in anything – not footwork, not anything. But once I turned seven, it was definitely time.

Q12: Your sister Sabrina is off to Notre Dame now, did you give her any advice before she left?

Just to have fun. Freshman year you shouldn’t take too seriously. Obviously you want to get good grades, but you want to go out and make new friends. My freshman year at Stanford, I definitely could have done better academically, but the experiences I had and the friends that I made are going to stick with me for a lifetime. The friends I made my freshman year are my best friends now and they’ll be my best friends when we all graduate so I just told her to have fun, stay on top of things, make good impressions. I told her to try and talk to her professors. That was one thing I didn’t take as much advantage of when I was a freshman. They’re all there to help you and they’re all at the tops of their respective fields so being able to pick the brains of these professors is pretty incredible. That’s one thing I wasn’t able to reap the full benefits of and I hope she does that more than I did.

Q13: What’s the best place you’ve ever traveled to with fencing?

There’s so many amazing cities I’ve been to. I love Asia and being able to go to Seoul and Tokyo and Shanghai to fence is pretty incredible. I loved all three of those cities, but I think the one I probably brag about the most is Havana because most Americans haven’t been able to go there. I love the culture and it’s an amazing place. As far as places to go, I generally brag about that one because it’s tough to go to. I’d probably say Jordan and seeing Petra was wonderful. That’s probably another place I never would have gone to had it not been for fencing too.

Q14: Where would you like to go to that you’ve never been?

Australia and Machu Picchu. I think both of those places would be really cool. If I make the Rio Olympic Team, my friends are thinking about going to Rio and then going straight to Machu Pichu.

Q15: In London, you were the youngest male athlete. This time around you’d only be 22. What do you take away from your London experience on the Road to Rio?

When I was in London, it was a little overwhelming in the individual event. In the team event, I think I performed better because I’d already experienced that. I was super prepared for my first bout and took apart the Canadian, 15-6, but I definitely wasn’t ready for Cheremisinov and it felt like everything was just multiplied out on that stage and all the feelings are so much more intense and, when you’re doing something wrong, you feel so much worse about it because this is the Olympics and every little mistake you make is magnified by the stage you’re on. Next time around, I’ll be less anxious. When things started going wrong in my bout with Cheremisinov, I think I melted down a little bit. Maybe not visibly, but I was going a little crazy. I wasn’t doing the right actions and couldn’t sit and think about what the right actions were. I think if I make Rio that I’d just be ready for the competition in general.

Q16: Why do you fence? What motivates you on a daily basis?

When I was a kid I loved fencing and I’m particularly good at it. My dream since I was a kid was always to win an Olympic gold medal so I guess at this point in my life fencing is probably my best outlet because, if I started any other sport this late, I don’t think I’d have a leg up on the competition [Laughs]. But, in all seriousness, I love the sport and I love the Olympics. I love the Olympic spirit and everything it stands for. I’ve never felt so much compassion, respect, brotherhood except for at the Olympics. It was pretty incredible to be around all of the other nations from all of the other sports with everyone having a mutual respect for what everyone has done. My first experience with that was at the Singapore Youth Olympics and being able to live out the real dream in London was pretty incredible. 

Tag(s): News  Alexander Massialas