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Alex Massialas emerges from quarantine to help U.S. men's foil team take Olympic bronze

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TOKYO – Alex Massialas planned to be his sister’s Olympic guide. All the experiences he’d had before, in London and in Rio, he would introduce to Sabrina in her first Games.

With their father, Greg, coaching the U.S. men’s foil team, they would have what pandemic-related restrictions had taken away from just about all athletes at the Tokyo Olympics – family.

Coronavirus had other plans.

Rather than walking in the opening ceremony or taking his sister to get snacks from the USA room, Massialas spent two weeks in quarantine as a close contact of someone who tested positive on his flight.

On Sunday, his first day out of quarantine, Massialas helped the U.S. men to team bronze. The team of Massialas, Nick Itkin, Race Imboden and Gerek Meinhardt beat Japan 45-31, giving them a second consecutive bronze medal and only the fourth team foil medal in U.S. history.

Fencer Alex Massialas
Fencer Alex Massialas

“At the beginning of this trip, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to fence at all, compete at all,” Massialas said. “So to be able to go out, compete and get a medal, I’m just happy to come back.”

Massialas was the lucky one, relatively speaking. Competing in his first Olympics, Itkin expected to have his father and personal coach, Misha, there to help guide him.

But Misha Itkin sat in the row in front of the same person who tested positive on the 45-minute flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco and also spent two weeks in quarantine.

With both testing negative throughout, the Japanese government made modifications. Itkin could come watch the individual competition, where Nick finished 12th, but only at a distance and couldn’t communicate with anyone.

Alex Massialas couldn’t watch as Sabrina helped the U.S. women to a fourth-place finish in the team foil competition. He eventually was allowed to train, but with several precautions. Everyone had to wear N95 masks, and Massialas trained at the end of the day on a special strip.

Massialas, the silver medalist in Rio, finished 18th in the individual competition.

“It’s still isolating. You had to be in a special room. It’s not what you’d consider ideal,” said Greg Massialas. “Everyone’s on this really high and doing what you can do on the highest level, and all of the sudden you’re having your hands tied, sort of, even emotionally.”

Massialas returned Sunday as the top-ranked U.S. men sought gold. Along with Imboden and Meinhardt, Massialas had helped the Americans to bronze in Rio to end an 84-year medal drought.

They easily dispatched Germany in the quarterfinal, with Greg Massialas substituting Imboden in for Itkin in the second rotation. In the semifinal, they narrowly lost to the Russian team and had to regroup for the final.

There, the Americans controlled throughout to get their second team medal together.

“We went from a longshot to make the top four to being upset that we didn’t win gold,” Alex Massialas said. “When you have a realistic expectation to win gold -- we grew up and that was never in the cards when we were watching the Olympics. I hope this is able to springboard the fencers back home to really have them chase their dreams. We’ve shown the world that U.S. fencing has come so far.”

In these difficult conditions, it had.

Massialas credits his teammates for helping him get through quarantine, calling or FaceTiming each day. In many ways, these Games were a family affair for the Americans.

Meinhardt’s wife, Lee Kiefer, won gold in women’s individual foil. Imboden’s partner, Ysaora Thibus, helped France to silver in the women’s team foil.

“To be with my girlfriend and both come home with something is incredible,” Imboden said.

Misha Itkin, himself once a professional fencer in Ukraine, snapped photos on his phone as his son climbed onto the podium to receive his first Olympic medal. It had been a trying few weeks in quarantine, but this had made it worth it.

“Whatever happens there, that’s what counts,” he said. “Everything else I can handle. I am willing to spend another half a year sitting in quarantine if they would win.”

On Monday, Alex Massialas will finally fit as much as he can before the team flies out the next day. He’ll wander the village with his teammates, grab a meal together and get a photo in front of the Olympic rings with his sister.

“We’ll do all the things that a normal day in the Olympic Village should be,” he said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alex Massialas emerges from quarantine to help foil team take bronze

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