Fencing, despite its masked and padded exterior, hurts.
And not in the physical sense.
“You get hurt emotionally, more than anything else,” Greg Massialas said. “Because it’s still a confrontation. It’s life or death, in a sense.”
He should know.
A fencing veteran of three Olympics (1980, 1984 and 1988), Greg was turned away each time — and each time without hardware. But after coaching last year’s USA fencing team, Greg will again return to the grandest of international stages this month for the 2012 London Games.
Though he’ll return not only as a coach.
“When I was five or six, I may have not understood the grandeur of the Games,” Greg’s 18-year-old son, Alexander Massialas said, the youngest male fencer at this year’s Olympics. “But I told my dad, ‘Hey, I’m going to be an Olympic champion.’”
Given his childhood, the early proclamation is anything but surprising. His youth was one dominated by the sight of his father’s foils and Olympic rings. But the 6-foot-2, 155-pounder — a recent graduate of San Francisco’s Drew School and the International Fencing Federation’s No. 13 senior foil fencer in the world — never had a blade forced upon his right palm.
“I never forced them into doing it. If anything, I actually kind of kept them away from it,” said Greg, who’s daughter also fences. “It’s something they wanted to do for themselves. Unless it’s something you want to do for yourself, you will not be successful, in my opinion.”
And so far, the younger Massialas has succeeded. In shuffling schooling and fencing careers for most of his adolescent life, he’s collected numerous championships and medals, including a bronze in the 2012 Paris Foil World Cup.
But when questioned if any pressure existed in being the youngest competitor, the San Franciscan sidestepped the notion as a sword fighter would the thrust of an opponent’s blade.
“If anything, being younger, it gives me less pressure because I’m not the one trying to prove myself out there,” Massialas said, who’ll attend Stanford starting Sept. 18. “There are a lot of old guys who would hate to lose to a youngster, while I’m just going out there and doing my thing.”
Doing his thing is striking that perfect balance between athleticism and mental fortitude. It’s focusing on fluidity and not over thinking his opponent’s next move — all while his coach, and father, is in his corner.
“Usually, we keep that apart,” Massialas said. “As much I try to put that aside, he’ll always be my dad and he’ll always be there rooting me on, and coaching me at the same time.”