Alexander Massialas

Alexander Massialas left Rio Olympics with two medals, two words he won’t forget

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Fencer Alexander Massialas repeated the word in interviews last year, remembering his immediate reaction after the Rio Olympic individual foil final: Devastation.

Massialas, then ranked No. 1 in the world, had a golden opportunity to become the first U.S. man to win an Olympic fencing title in the modern era of weapons.

After the comeback of his life in the quarterfinals, scoring seven straight touches to avoid elimination, he ran out of magic in the final against Italian Daniele Garrozo.

Garrozo was ranked 11th in the world, had never before earned an individual Olympic or world championships medal and had never beaten Massialas in a regulation bout.

“[Garrozo] was having a day,” said Massialas’ father and coach, Greg, a three-time Olympian (the first being the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games).

The moment from Aug. 7, 2016, that will most stick with Massialas came seconds after Garrozo whipped off his mask and sprinted off the stage in jubliation. Massialas, who had been shielded by a stars-and-stripes facemask, was enveloped by his father just off the strip.

“Though you can’t see it,” Massialas said, “I’m definitely crying.”

It’s OK, his father told him. Greg repeated it: It’s OK.

“Those were two of the most impactful words I’d ever heard,” Massialas said last autumn. “All I needed to hear.”

Growing up, Massialas was inspired by his father’s trophy case. He said he wanted to become not just an Olympian, but an Olympic gold medalist, before he even started fencing. That was early, given Massialas yearned to pick up a weapon around kindergarten. But his dad’s age minimum for any student was 7 years old.

Massialas attended three Games — 1996 (age 2, his dad was a referee), 2004, 2008 — before he made his first team in 2012 as the youngest U.S. male Olympian across all sports in London (18).

In Rio, Massialas was perhaps the best hope to end the U.S. male gold-medal drought in fencing, where the most well-known Americans were women — double Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis and barrier-breaking Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Massialas missed practices leading up to competition in Brazil, though, with a wrist injury. In the quarterfinals, he was trailing Italian Giorgio Avola 14-8, one touch from elimination. Massialas never beat Avola in three previous duels.

Greg watched from the coach’s area. With his son on the brink, he peered at another strip, where another American pupil, Gerek Meinhardt, also trailed in a quarterfinal. Greg decided in that moment to stay with his son.

After the comeback, Greg remembered being in a back room. Across it, Avola sat motionless, still in his fencing gear, until people told him to leave because they were closing.

Hours later, after the final, Massialas was in a similar place in the arena. Greg decided then to share a thought he had right after the defeat.

“You know what, going into this morning, if I told you that you were going to get a silver medal, I would take it,” Greg said. In fencing, every round of a medal event is held on one day. “A silver medal at the Olympic Games is kind of an amazing accomplishment, especially for U.S. fencing.”

Three days later, Massialas returned for the team event. Again, the U.S. was a medal favorite. Again, there was an upset. This time in the semifinals against Russia. Massialas’ turn was up with a 40-39 lead. The first team to 45 wins. He lost six of the next seven touches to Russian Alexey Cheremisinov.

“I was almost certainly more distraught when I lost that match than when I lost the individual,” he said. “We could’ve won the gold had I just fenced a little bit better.”

Massialas would win his last competition of the Games, though. He beat Garozzo 5-1 in the team bronze-medal match, as the U.S. rolled 45-31 over Italy.

“I’m just glad I was able to do it,” he said. “I just wish I had done it three days earlier.”

A third Olympics for Massialas — a fifth for the family, as competitors — could bring another unique experience.

Younger sister Sabrina is likely to qualify for her first Olympics, four years after just missing the U.S. women’s foil team. Sabrina, an NCAA team champion at Notre Dame, since spent seven months on crutches after foot and hip surgeries.

Greg said she’s now ranked fourth in U.S. Olympic qualifying with the process close to completion. Four make the team.

As for Alexander, he has a Stanford mechanical engineering degree ready to put to use. After he completes his Olympic medal collection.

“It feels a little bit more like unfinished business,” said Massialas, who qualified for Tokyo before the coronavirus pandemic, is ranked fifth in the world and won a 2019 World title in the team event. “I’ve proven that I can do amazing things. I can win World Cups and Grand Prix. I can win all kinds of results, but the dream ever since I was a kid, before I even started fencing, was to be an Olympic champion.”

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U.S. fencers take bronze in men’s team foil

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Prior to Friday the last time the United States won a medal in the men’s team foil competition was 1932. Thanks to Gerek Meinhardt, Alexander Massialas, Miles Chamley-Watson and Race Imboden, that dry spell came to an end in Rio.

After falling to Russia in the semifinal round the Americans rebounded in the bronze medal match, beating Italy 45-31 to earn the nation’s first medal in that event in 84 years. After victories by Daniele Garozzo and Giorgia Avola gave Italy a 20-17 lead through four bouts, Meinhardt shifted the momentum of the bronze medal match by posting a dominant 8-0 win over Andrea Baldina. Massialas would follow with a 5-1 win over Garozzo, and Meinahrdt’s 5-1 win over Avola gave the Americans a 35-22 lead through seven bouts.

WATCH: U.S. takes bronze in men’s team foil

Imboden and Massialas’ bouts would close out the match for the U.S., which defeated the reigning World and Olympic champions in taking bronze. The U.S. has now won three Olympic medals in fencing in Rio, with Massialas being responsible for two of them. Massialas took silver in the individual foil, losing to Garozzo in the gold medal match, and Daryl Homer took silver in the individual sabre.

Massialas became the first American fencer to win two medals in the same Olympics since 1932, when Joseph Levis accomplished that feat.

France and Russia advanced to the gold medal match, with Russia coming back to win 45-41. The Russians trailed after each of the first seven bouts, but an emphatic 10-3 win by Artur Akhmatkhuzin in the eighth bout sparked the turnaround that earned Russia the gold medal.

American fencer Alexander Massialas wins silver in men’s foil

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After losing in the Round of 16 in the men’s foil competition in London four years ago, American fencer Alexander Massialas arrived in Rio with hopes of at the very least making his way onto the medal stand.

Massialas accomplished that but fell short in his quest for an Olympic gold medal, as he lost to Italy’s Daniele Garozzo in the gold medal match. Garozzo hung on for the 15-11 victory, with Massialas attempting to come back after the Italian went on a run of seven consecutive points. Garozzo’s run began with the match tied at seven points apiece, placing him one point away from his first Olympic gold medal.

But Massialas didn’t fold, scoring four consecutive points to stave off defeat for the time being. Garozzo would ultimately score the decisive point, touching off a wild celebration just minutes after he prematurely celebrated with the score at 14-10. The last time the United States won a men’s individual fencing medal was when Peter Westbrook took home bronze at the 1984 Games.

Russia’s Timur Safin won the bronze medal with a 15-13 victory over Great Britain’s Richard Kruse, who lost to Massialas in the semifinal round.