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Olympic Legacies Shine In Youth Olympians

By Paul D. Bowker | Aug. 14, 2014, 3:03 p.m. (ET)

Myles Marshall poses for a photo with his mother, Debbie Grant, after winning the 800-meter the 2014 UIL State Track & Field Championships on May 10, 2014 in Austin, Texas.

Thirty years have passed since what might have been the best 800-meter footrace in U.S. Olympic Team Trials history.

Myles Marshall, a 2014 Texas high school state champion and runner-up finisher in the 800 at the 2014 U.S. junior nationals, has a video of that 1984 Olympic Trials race bookmarked on his computer. He has watched it again and again.

No surprise there. One of the runners in that race was his father, John Marshall. John’s third-place finish behind Earl Jones and John Gray in a race that set an American record put John Marshall in the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games.

“Phenomenal,” Myles Marshall says.

When the Youth Olympic Games begin Aug. 16 (Saturday) in Nanjing, China, Myles Marshall will be out to set some history for himself. He is one of 92 U.S. athletes competing and one of several who have parents or close family members with Olympic connections.

Among the others is women’s foil fencer Sabrina Massialas, whose father Greg is a three-time Olympian and coach of the U.S. men’s national foil team. Her brother, Alex, won a silver medal at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010 and then made the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team in men’s foil.

Swimmer Courtney Mykkanen is the daughter of John Mykkanen, who won a silver medal in swimming at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games. Courtney is one of eight swimmers on the U.S. team and is a backstroke specialist at 50, 100 and 200 meters.

Courtney Mykkanen and her father, John, pose at the 2013 Speedo Junior National Championships on Aug. 2, 2014 in Irvine, California.

High jumper Janae Moffitt is the daughter of Latrese Johnson-Moffitt, who was a U.S. Olympic Team alternate in 1984 and 1988. Janae won an Indiana high school state title in 2013, her sophomore year, and placed second in the high jump at the 2014 New Balance Outdoor High School Track and Field Championships.

Long jumper Rhesa Foster is the daughter of two-time Jamaican Olympian Robert Foster.

Sione Masoe, one of 24 U.S. Youth Olympic rugby players (12 men and 12 women), is the nephew of three-time Olympic boxer Maselino Masoe.

Myles Marshall nearly had two Olympic parents. His mother, Debbie Grant, missed an Olympic spot in 1988 by four-hundredths of one second in the 800-meter race at the U.S. Olympic Trials. She also competed in four other Olympic Trials, the last time in 2000.

“Both my parents are really good runners,” said Myles, who is coached by his mom in Kingwood, Texas.

Grant traveled to China with Myles on Wednesday on a plane ticket that cost less than $100 because she traded in frequent flier miles so that she could make the trip. A 14-time U.S. nationals finalist and 14-time Big East Conference champion while at Villanova, Grant is a project engineer for Shell Oil Company.

“It‘ll be so great having her in the stands and being able to have that experience together,” Marshall said.

Meanwhile, John Marshall will follow the Youth Olympic Games results from his home in New Jersey. He helped Myles register for the youth trials in the spring.

“He thinks it’s a great experience,” Myles said. “He’s the one who found the (selection) meet back in early March.”

Myles broke his dad’s 16-and-under national record in the 800 at the USA Track & Field Junior Outdoor Championships in July in Eugene, Oregon, winning a silver medal with a time of 1:48.43. John had run a 1:48.44 in 1980.

“He saw it coming,” Myles said.

Myles also won a Texas high school title at 800 meters in May and competed in the IAAF World Junior Championships in late July at the University of Oregon. His dad had some advice for him when they talked prior to Myles’ trip to China.

“He kind of said that although I’m ranked second going in, a lot of these people haven’t really run their best times during the summer,” Myles said. “So I can’t walk in there thinking that I’m second, so I’m going to get a second-place medal. I may be realistically fourth or fifth. I still have to race my best.”

Sabrina Massialas and her father, Greg, pose in front of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in February 2014.

Sabrina Massialas has won the silver medal at the last two cadet world championships. She is ready for an upgrade.

“I really want to get rid of the silver and get the gold this time,” Massialas said. “Most importantly, I just want to be able to meet some people and see all the different cultures and sports and everything. Just meet everyone and soak it all in.”

The camaraderie among athletes seems to be a priority for just about every athlete.

“It should be a great experience,” Marshall said. “It’s multiple sports, so it’s not like one of those track meets where you go and you’re just surrounded by track athletes. … I think meeting the people in these sports is something great and you can build lifelong relationships that way.”

“I want to try to meet a lot of new people,” Courtney Mykkanen said.

Massialas has the advantage of experiencing the first Youth Olympic Games through her brother, Alex. The Youth Olympic Games helped propel Alex toward the London 2012 Olympic Games. Sabrina is hoping it can help achieve the same for her with the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games just two years away.

“I remember my brother, after he competed in the Youth Olympics in Singapore, he came back home and he told me it was just like a dream,” Sabrina said. “Then seeing him compete in the London Olympics, I’ve seen how these (Youth) Olympics prepared him for it and everything. It’s just really cool. I feel like I’m starting to take my own steps toward that.”

“I remember him (Alex) telling me how great it was,” Greg Massialas said. “The (athletes’) village and all the things because it really replicated the similar experience of the Olympic Games, but on a smaller scale and a younger scale. … I‘m now very happy Sabrina will be able to participate in this experience.”

Paul D. Bowker is a freelance writer based in Indiana. He has written about Olympic sports and been an Olympics editor for most of his 30 years in daily newspapers, including Olympics editor at the Florida Times-Union and Assistant Bureau Chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He is a past president of AP Sports Editors. Bowker is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.