A day in the life of… YOG fencing coach Greg Massialas

As part of our behind-the-scenes series on life at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), olympic.org speaks to Greg Massialas, coach of the USA fencing team at Buenos Aires 2018.

Family affair

“Buenos Aires was my third experience of the YOG. My son Alex won two medals in Singapore in 2010, and my daughter Sabrina won gold in the girls’ individual foil in Nanjing four years later. On both occasions, I was there on a “day pass” to help coach them, but I wasn’t totally immersed in the wider YOG experience. Being in Argentina was completely different, because I was in Buenos Aires with the team for the duration of the Games.”

Frenetic start

“We flew into Buenos Aires on a red-eye flight and touched down on the morning of the day of the Opening Ceremony. The girls’ foil and boys’ sabre competitions were scheduled for the following day, so we had very little time to acclimatise. We all had to jump straight into it and, after attending the Opening Ceremony, it was back to the Youth Olympic Village and to bed.”

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Early riser

“There were four days of fencing at the Games and we stuck to the same routine on each day, irrespective of who was competing. Alarms were set for 6 a.m. and, after breakfast, we jumped on the shuttle bus from the Village at 6.45. We were lucky because the Africa Pavilion was only a 15-minute journey away, and by 7.15 we were warming up. The competitors had to be in the call room by 8.30, and at 8.50 they made their way out onto the strip to fence.”

Longest day

“Kenji Bravo won silver in the boys’ foil on the third day of competition, and we didn’t get back to the Village until nearly 10 in the evening. The semi-finals started at 6 p.m., and the gold medal match at 7.15. The medal ceremony was at 8 but, because he had to undergo doping control, that added another 20 minutes to what was already a long day. We finally got on the shuttle bus at 9.30 and ate dinner in the Village. It was after 11 by the time I got to bed.”

Sportsmanship personified

“Winning silver in the boys’ foil with Kenji and May Tieu taking the bronze in the girls’ foil were obviously highlights. Another standout moment was during May’s event on day one, when one of the French coaches approached me and said the Togolese fencer didn’t have a weapon and asked if we could we help. I asked May if she would lend her one and she agreed immediately. I pointed out that the Togolese athlete was in the same pool as her and was a rival, but it made absolutely no difference to her decision. That for me was the essence of the Olympic spirit, and I was incredibly proud of her attitude and selflessness. I’ve still no idea why it was one of the French coaches who made the request, or what had happened to the girl’s gear.”

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One-man show

“It was a big personal challenge in Buenos Aires, because I was the only coach with the team and the US were the only country to take a full quota of six fencers. I had to do everything and became part coach, part administrator and part team manager. It was hectic at times ensuring the athletes were always in the right place at the right time with the right equipment and accreditation, but coming home with two individual medals made it all worthwhile.”

City explorers

“The advantage of having four crazy days of competition right at the start of the Games meant we had plenty of time to explore Buenos Aires after the mixed team event on day four. For the first time, we were able to eat outside the Village and, with the help of my wife and a few parents who had made the trip to support their kids, we organised trips to make sure they really got a feel for the city.”

Farewell Argentina

“We attended the Closing Ceremony in the Village as a team, and I have to admit I was blown away by the atmosphere. I attended the Closing Ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984 and in Seoul four years later. They were both incredible events, but the spirit of the YOG really shone through in Buenos Aires. The passion of all those excited teenagers was wonderful and something I’ll never forget.”

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