US fencer Alexander Massialas in line to make history in Rio

American Alexander Massialas has been honored as much for his fencing accomplishments as for how young he was when he accomplished them.

He's hoping to prove at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics that he's the best in the world regardless of age.

Massialas, a 22-year-old Stanford student perhaps best known for being the youngest U.S. male athlete at the London Games in 2012, will head to Brazil with a real shot at history.

The son of American fencing legend Greg Massialas, Alex is the top-ranked foil fencer in the world - and perhaps the best chance the U.S. has at earning its first men's Olympic gold medal in that discipline.

''Obviously I'd like to be the person to break the drought. But as far my concern with the Olympics go, I'm not really thinking about that so much as trying to get a gold medal,'' Massialas said. ''For me, it's about getting on the strip and beating whoever is in front of me.''

Alexander has always had a distinct advantage over his peers because of his father Greg, a three-time Olympian in the 1980s, referee and coach who is among the most influential fencing figures in American history.

But Greg never pushed Alex or his 19-year-old sister Sabrina, a U.S. fencer who didn't qualify for Rio, into the sport.

Greg knew that if his kids didn't fall in love with fencing on their own, they probably wouldn't be very good at it.

Greg was pulled back into fencing at the request of peers looking for coaching help ahead of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

Greg transitioned to officiating, most notably in Atlanta in 1996, and his wife, Chwan-Hui Chen, encouraged him to start his own team two years later.

Alex came along in 1994. He naturally gravitated toward fencing at an early age, only to be initially rebuffed by his father.

''It's not something I pushed on them,'' said Greg, who is the current U.S. national team coach. ''It's something they wanted to do. ... and I think that's important because unless it's truly something you want to do on your own, you won't be that successful. That makes a big difference.''

But Alexander insisted. Greg relented, and his son showed immediate promise.

Alexander's breakthrough came when he was just 14.

He went to an international challenge in Paris - where most of the field had at least a decade's worth of experience on him - and became the youngest fencer to ever make the top 16 in that event.

''From there, I was like `Wow. I can actually do something. I can actually make an Olympic team,''' Alexander said.

Alexander reached that goal in 2012 after becoming the most decorated cadet, or under-17 fencer, in the history of the world championships.

Alexander finished a respectable 13th in London, just a few months after graduating high school, before enrolling at Stanford.

He ascended to the top spot internationally earlier this season and will enter Rio with back-to-back first-place finishes in events in Shanghai and Panama City.

Alexander is just one of three U.S. men, including Gerek Mienhardt (fourth) and Race Imboden (seventh), ranked in the top 10 in foil.

The American team, which Alexander helped lead to a world title in 2013, is currently second in the world.

It's ''the little things,'' he said. ''Working on the finer things like getting the technique down and just honing on - maybe not adding crazy stuff - but slowly and slowly developing my game over a long period of time.''

Alexander took the past year at Stanford off to focus on training for the Olympics. He also moved back home to his parent's house in San Francisco, where Greg's insistence that fencing not interfere with family life continues to this day.

Despite the fact that Alexander credits his father's keen coaching eye for much of his success, the two rarely talk shop at the dinner table.

That remains the one place where Alexander can still relish in his youth.

''I try to stay as much of a kid as possible,'' Alexander said. ''At home, it's more like a father-son bond.''

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