At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Gerek Meinhardt became the youngest ever athlete to compete on a U.S. Olympic fencing team. Eight years later, he is ready to leave the sport with a medal around his neck.
Meinhardt’s weapon of choice is foil. Traditionally, the United States has struggled in this version of the sport, where points are scored with just the tip of the blade and target area is limited to the torso. No American individual or team has ever won gold wielding a foil, and the last medal of any color came over a half-century ago at the Los Angeles Games in 1932.
The drought might end in Rio, and if you ask Meinhardt, it will.
“We realistically have a really great chance at a medal, which wasn’t necessarily the case before,” said the San Francisco native in a recent interview with NBC Olympics. “We’ll go in ranked second in the world and be one of the favorites to compete for the gold medal.”
The “we” he refers to is the U.S. men’s foil team, which includes Alexander Massialas, Miles Chamley-Watson and alternate Race Imboden in addition to Meinhardt. Each will compete in the individual men’s foil tournament, with the exception of Imboden, but it’s in the team tournament where the Americans feel they can make history. “Even though you always go into it with a killer mentality and a lot of confidence that you can defy the odds, this time we actually have a really great chance.”
The team is coached by Greg Massialas, Alexander’s father and a former three-time Olympian in his own right. Massialas is the only coach that Gerek Meinhardt has ever known.
“I actually had been taking piano lessons from Greg’s wife, Vivian, before I even started fencing," he said. "So I would be at their house on Fridays for piano lessons. Then afterward Alexander and I would go straight from the piano lesson to the gym for practice.”
While Alexander and Gerek have only been Olympic teammates once before – at the London Games – they have trained together since they were five and nine years old, respectively.
“It’s been a really great relationship so far,” reflects Meinhardt. “We’ve been really fortunate over the years that Alexander and I have been so successful, and now he’s my Olympic teammate.”
Rio will be Meinhardt’s third and final Olympics. His decision to retire after the Games is not due to age – he only just turned 26 in July – but because he has a promising business career ahead of him. He currently works at Deloitte & Touche LLP's advisory practice. "Basically I have two main clients in the Bay Area and we help coordinate optimization with their customers.”
“When I started I was a full-time employee, and that would entail some days at four, five in the morning doing a couple hours of workouts and then heading to the office for the day, and then in the evening after work heading to fencing practice.”
Working full-time while simultaneously training for the Olympics is not unheard of, but it certainly presents a time-management challenge that those who train full-time don’t encounter. Since graduating and getting an MBA from the University of Notre Dame in 2015, it is a challenge Meinhardt has lived every day. After Rio, he will finally dedicate all of his efforts to his professional life.
“I’m not sure how abrupt my retirement will be… but as far as what I’m going to do afterward, I’m focused on my business career.”
That’s for after the Olympics. This summer, Meinhardt only has one thing on his mind: ending his fencing career standing on the podium, ideally on the top step.
“I’m obviously looking forward to being able to see other events and experience some of the Rio culture… but first and foremost it’s the competitions. I’m hoping to go out on top with a medal, and then I can appreciate everything else that comes after that.”