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Childhood Friends Alexander Massialas, Gerek Meinhardt Secure Spots On Third Olympic Team Together

By Chrös McDougall | Feb. 22, 2020, 12:09 p.m. (ET)

 

Alexander Massialas, the first U.S. man to win two fencing medals in the same Olympic Games in more than a century, will officially be going for more this summer.

And he’ll be joined by childhood friend and longtime teammate Gerek Meinhardt.

The two foil fencers qualified for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Saturday after Massialas earned a bronze medal at the FIE World Cup in Cairo, Egypt; Meinhardt made it to the quarterfinals but fell to Massialas, 15-11. Their results guarantee they will be the top two athletes in the senior national team point standings, which end in April.

The No. 1-ranked U.S. men’s foil team had previously locked up its Olympic spot in November 2019 via its FIE ranking. That means one more athlete can make the Olympic team, while a fourth will go to Tokyo as a replacement athlete eligible only for the team tournament.

In what has been a strong and deep men’s foil group for the past several years, competition for the Olympic spots has been tight.

The final spot on the U.S. Olympic men’s foil fencing team will come down to Olympic hopeful Nick Itkin and two-time Olympian Race Imboden. Miles Chamley-Watson, a two-time Olympian and mainstay on the foil team, was knocked out of contention for Tokyo when he lost to Meinhardt in Cairo.

The foursome of Meinhardt, Massialas, Imboden and Chamley-Watson has achieved much success over the past decade, including winning a 2016 Olympic bronze medal and the 2019 world title together. The men’s foil team, with Itkin having started breaking into the squad in recent years, came into this weekend riding a 14-competition medal streak in world cup team competition.

The group also put together a 1-2-3 U.S. medal sweep in January at a grand prix event in Torino, Italy, with Meinhardt winning, Massialas taking second and Imboden placing third.

Now the first two are officially going to another Olympic Games.

Tokyo will mark the fourth Olympic Games for Meinhardt, 29, and third for Massialas, 25. Meinhardt is the first U.S. men's fencer to make four Olympic teams since Mike Marx competed at the Games from 1984-1996.

The two have been friends for two decades. Meinhardt was taking piano lessons from Massialas’ mother, Vivian, when he discovered fencing at age 9 through the Massialas family and began training with Alexander and being coached by his father, Greg.

Greg Massialas, a three-time Olympian and current coach of the national team, is the patriarch of a talented fencing family. In addition to himself and Alexander, daughter Sabrina Massialas has also found great success in the sport, winning a gold medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games and reaching the world championships four times in women’s foil. She entered the weekend fifth in the national team standings.

It’s Alex, however, who is setting the standard now.

The Californian earned his first Olympic berth in 2012 at age 18, making him the youngest male athlete on the U.S. Olympic team. He’s since gone on to medal-winning performances at both the Olympic Games and world championships, as well as a standout career at Stanford.

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In 2013, Massialas anchored the U.S. squad to its first medal at the world championships, a silver. Since then the team has won two more world silver medals, plus a historic gold medal in 2019 — the first for the U.S. men’s foil team.

Massialas also claimed an individual silver medal in 2015.

His greatest accomplishments, however, came at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. In the individual competition, he reached the final and ultimately won a silver medal, becoming the first U.S. man to win an individual foil fencing medal since 1960. Then he joined with Meinhardt, Chamley-Watson and Imboden to win the team bronze medal, Team USA’s first in men’s team foil since 1932. The combined feats made Massialas the first U.S. men’s fencer to win two medals at an Olympic Games since 1904.

Meinhardt, meanwhile, has been a force on the U.S. foil team for a generation.

In 2008 he became the youngest U.S. fencer to qualify for an Olympic team at age 18, and he’s only continued from there.

Two years after those Beijing Games, Meinhardt won a bronze medal at the 2010 world championships, becoming the first U.S. man to reach the podium there. The Notre Dame grad added another world bronze medal in 2015, and has been a part of four medal-winning teams.

For all of his success, Meinhardt’s 2019 season might have been his best. In addition to the historic team world title, he also won a world cup silver medal, a grand prix bronze medal and a Pan American Championships bronze medal en route to a fifth-place season finish, his best since ending No. 4 in 2013-14. Meinhardt continued his 2019 by winning the Pan Am Games individual and team gold medals in August, and in September he married longtime girlfriend Lee Kiefer, a fellow foil fencer who earned her third U.S. Olympic Team berth in January. They are the first married couple on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.

That success has continued into the current season, with Meinhardt adding a world cup silver medal and grand prix gold medal to his name before heading into Cairo.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movements for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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