SAN FRANCISCO -- It takes some doing to create a stir on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The place is already full of hustle and bustle — tourists and city folk alike taking in the sights, sounds and seafood at the iconic waterfront attractions.
But when U.S. Olympic fencers cleared out a space at Pier 39 — next to the Hard Rock Cafe — to demonstrate their prowess and show off their newly earned Olympic medals, they gathered quite an appreciative crowd.“It’s the first time I’m doing anything like this,” said Dagmara Wozniak, looking stylish in her shock of purple-dyed hair and USA team jacket and proudly wearing the bronze medal she earned last month in Rio de Janeiro as part of the women’s saber team. “There’s a buzz being created about fencing with all our athletes this time around, with our second most successful Olympics. It’s just great to continue that buzz — to get more people involved.”
|Alexander Massialas is introduced to the crowd at Pier 39 on Sept. 4, 2016 in San Francisco.|
Wozniak and three other Olympic fencers kicked off a month-long, five-city hometown tour Sunday in San Francisco, the hometown of Alexander Massialas, who won a silver medal in men’s foil — the first individual medal won by a U.S. male fencer in 32 years and first U.S. fencer to win a foil medal in 56 years — and a bronze in men’s team foil. Massialas skipped the demonstration at Pier 39 because he was busy organizing a unique meet-and-greet open to the public at his family’s fencing club, Massialas Foundation (MTEAM), which happened later in the afternoon.
At MTEAM, Massialas was joined by Wozniak, Mariel Zagunis (a gold medalist in individual saber in 2004 and 2008, and who shared the women’s team bronze with Wozniak in Rio) and women’s epee team member Katarzyna Trzopek, who resides in Redwood City south of San Francisco. Each of the fencers broke down video of their big Olympic matches, taking questions from the enthusiastic crowd, and later signed autographs and posed for pictures.
The event was moderated by three-time Olympian Greg Massialas, Alexander’s father and coach and head of MTEAM.
“It’s been amazing,” Alexander Massialas said. “I’m obviously San Francisco born and raised, and to bring back not one but two medals back to the Bay is an amazing feeling. … I just want the sport to get more exposure.”
The women fencers might have had especially tired wrists. They also signed autographs on Pier 39, where there was also a fencing demonstration by area junior teams.
Sunday evening, all four fencers were the guests of honor at a $150-a-plate VIP dinner, which raised money for USA Fencing.
Fundraising and community outreach — to get more kids involved in fencing — are goals of this victory tour, which also hits New York (Sept. 17-18), Portland, Oregon (Oct. 1-2), Houston (Oct. 3) and Detroit (Oct. 9, in conjunction with the October North American Cup).
Perhaps basking the most in this victory tour is Wozniak, who admits she might have retired had she not won a medal in Rio. Wozniak, 28, was a reserve in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and participated in the 2012 London Games, but did not medal. Now she is bronze medalist, and is gunning for more at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
|A fencing demonstration takes place during the USA Fencing victory tour at Pier 39 on Sept 4, 2016 in San Francisco.|
“For sure. 100 percent,” Wozniak said. “I think everyone comes to a point in their career where they think, ‘Do I still train? Do I still go, do I not?’ And then going so long without reaching an Olympic medal …
“But now getting a taste of what a bronze medal feels like, it’s reignited a flame in me and kind of something new that I needed in order to commit myself for another four years. I’m glad it happened. I feel rejuvenated and motivated to work harder. I’m back in the gym.”
For Alexander Massialas, who also won his first Olympic medals, he has learned to show pride in his silver, which at first was difficult. He was ranked No. 1 in the world and considered by many a gold-medal favorite until he lost the gold-medal match to Daniele Garozzo of Italy. But Greg Massialas would not let him sulk, instead rushing to hug his son after the match and telling him how proud he was.
“I was just a kid with a dream,” Alexander Massialas said. “As a kid, all I wanted was to be an Olympic gold medalist. I fell a little bit short of that this time, but bringing back hardware nonetheless is an amazing feeling. So all the little kids out there, I want to give them the chance to dream big, to aspire to great things and know once you put your mind to it there is a possibility you can accomplish those things.”