With two Olympic appearances already under his belt, American fencer Alexander Massialas is preparing to make his third trip to the Games as he readies himself for Tokyo. The 27-year-old San Francisco native put together a solid outing in Rio, winning a silver in individual foil and a bronze in team foil. Still chasing the elusive gold medal, Massialas is hopeful this will finally be the year he captures the crown jewel.
As part of our preparation for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, NBC Olympics sent questionnaires to a wide range of athletes to learn more about their lives on and off the field of play.
Here’s some of what we found out about Alexander Massialas:
Tell us about your family.
My father moved to the U.S. from Greece when he was 10 and was a three-time Olympian for the United States in men's foil fencing in 1980, 1984 and 1988. My mother moved to the U.S. from Taiwan to attend graduate school for music (piano and pedagogy). My sister is also a fencer; not only a junior world champion but also a Youth Olympic Champion from Nanjing 2014.
Who do you live with?
I live in an apartment with my sister in San Francisco, in the same building as my parents.
Parent influence on athletic career?
My parents were extremely influential in my athletic career, as my dad was the one who introduced me to the Olympics. Ever since I was young I was always intrigued with the Olympic values and the idea of the best athletes in the world gathering to compete against each other. My father has also been my coach ever since I started my fencing career. My mother has been just as influential because she is always working behind the scenes to help me achieve my goals, whether that means driving me from basketball practice to fencing practice when I was in high school to still making sure I don't go to competitions without forgetting anything.
How has your hometown shaped who you are today?
San Francisco is a huge part of my identity. I'm extremely proud to be from San Francisco and I loved growing up in the city. Growing up with such diverse and amazing food all over the place, with so many parks and cool spots to go to was an awesome experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Where else have you lived?
I lived four years in Palo Alto when I attended Stanford. I still have grandparents who live in Taiwan and Greece so my family tries to visit whenever we have a chance. I love going back to Greece and Taiwan. Even though they are so different, I love the food and culture in both places and I always jump at the opportunity to go back.
How much time do you train? How much do you sleep?
Generally I spend an hour-and-a-half to two hours per strength and conditioning session and two hours per fencing session. I try to get at least 9-10 hours of sleep a night.
Typical training day?
Every day is different, but I do strength and conditioning three days a week at Stanford (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and fencing five times a week in San Francisco at my club (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday).
What's your favorite workout?
My favorite thing to do is fencing, so whenever I have a chance to do that I'm having the most fun.
What's the most grueling workout you've ever done?
The two-a-day practices are the hardest, especially during the days where I try to max out my conditioning after my workout (in particular the VersaClimber).
I don't have any strict dietary plan, but I like to cook for myself whenever I have a chance so I know exactly what goes into my food and I can limit the amount of grease/oil/fat that goes into my meals.
Earliest memory of fencing?
Ever since I can remember, fencing has been a part of my life. Our apartment always had fencing photos on the walls and old fencing equipment laying around. One of my favorite things to do when friends came over as a kid was to go into my dad's old trophy case to show off my dad's Olympic rings, medals and trophies. I've always loved fencing because even though it's athletic, you have to always be thinking and trying to outsmart your opponent.
Earliest memory of watching the Olympics?
I attended my first Olympic Games at 2 years old in Atlanta because my dad was a referee. Unfortunately I was a little too young to remember anything, so my first real experience watching the Olympics was in 2004 in Athens. Seeing Mariel Zagunis win the first gold medal for the United States in fencing in over 100 years served as huge inspiration moving forward in my own career. Being 10 years old at the time, seeing her win made it feel like anything was possible. In 2008 watching Gerek Meinhardt make the Olympic Team as an 18-year-old cemented that because I was four years younger and it really made me believe I could make it to London 2012 as an 18-year-old as well.
Specific breakthrough moment?
My breakthrough came in 2009 at the Paris World Cup. Even though I was only 14 at the time, I was able to make the top 16 at the most prestigious event on the circuit that isn't the Olympics or World Championships (I'm the youngest to ever make the top 16 at that event). This was the first time I felt like I really had a shot to make the Olympic team, but also taught me that I was going to work so much harder because I lost in the top 16 to a fencer that so easily took me apart. Even though I knew I was capable of great things, I also knew I had a lot more to learn and a lot more to prescribe if I wanted to be truly great.
Close friends with any competitors?
Fencing is such a small sport that on the world level, all the top fencers know each other. I'm friends with a lot of the fencers on the circuit, including current and past members of the Japanese teams. Yuki Ota, Olympic silver medalist from 2008 and 2015 World Champion (when I took second), is a good friend and now one of the main organizers for Tokyo 2020.
Olympic role model?
My father has always been my role model growing up. His love of the Olympic Games and fencing has always been something I've admired.
Which Winter Olympic event would you like to try?
I would love to try ski racing because I've gone skiing every year since I was 2 years old except the 2012 and 2016 Olympic years. I still love skiing and try to go whenever I have an opportunity.
Do you have a nickname?
Everyone who's met me since I was young has known me as Alexander. In kindergarten there was another Alexander so we played rock, paper, scissors for the name Alexander and I won with rock. I still always play rock to this day whenever I have to rock, paper, scissors. In high school people started calling me Alex and in college all my good friends called me Mass (pronounced 'moss'). Funny enough, the first time my dad heard my friends call me Mass, my dad told me that was what his college friends used to call him.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I'm pretty good at various computer and videogames. I can also play a couple songs on guitar.
Do you have any fears?
I have a mild fear of heights and a fear of being stung by a bee. I've never been stung before and hopefully I can never be stung throughout my life.
What would you be doing if not an athlete?
I would be in the mechanical engineering world hopefully working on cars or drones. I studied dynamics in college and specifically took classes on drones and autonomous cars, so hopefully I'd be working on that.
Advice you'd give a young fencer?
Don't give up, no matter how dismayed you get. There will always be bumps and challenges in your career, but my love and dedication to the sport has always carried me through the difficult times. As long as you never lose your passion for the sport, you'll have many more opportunities for success.