This summer at the Olympic Games in London, over 10,000 swimmers, runners, leapers, rowers and other athletes will be competing. Included in the mix are a few youth. These young athletes have trained for their entire lives, earning themselves a chance to represent their country at the Olympics. Amongst these is fencer Alexander Massialas, representing the United States, and diver Tom Daley, representing Britain.
Alexander Massialas is currently an 18-year-old senior attending Drew High School in San Francisco. He qualified for the US National Fencing Team in February and will be competing in the individual and team men's foil events in London this summer.
Massialas has been fencing since he was seven years old. At fourteen, he began competing in and winning international competitions. When he made it onto the roster of the Cadet World Championship team in 2008, he knew he could do something big in the sport. “Ever since I was a little kid I always wanted to go because my dad was a 3-time Olympic fencer and Olympic coach, and I have countless Olympic souvenirs at home, so I really think it’s an honor to be able to go out there and represent our country this summer,” Massialas said.
For Massialas, the toughest part about being an athlete in high school is having to manage his time. Competing at a high level, an Olympic level, requires hours of daily practice and a lot of time spent on planes traveling to tournaments and competitions. As a result, Massialas is often absent from school because he is frequently out of the country competing. “It just takes a lot of determination; Drew has been really supportive of what I do, and a lot of it goes out to the teachers and headmaster for being so lenient about my absences, but I always have to make it up with tests and working hard during the weekend.”
Despite being one of the youngest Olympic competitors, Massialas is not very worried. “Sometimes it's tough being one of the younger ones, but it also puts more pressure on the older guys because they don't want to lose to a younger guy,” he said jokingly.
What he may lack in years, Massialas makes up for in his ability to take control of crucial points. “When most fencers get to tight situations, that’s when a lot of people get nervous, but for me, I kind of like the pressure,” he said. “It really accentuates the skill in each fencer; it’s the time where you’ll see who’s truly the best competitor.”
Although it is his first time competing in the Olympics, Massialas has great aspirations. “It’s a little ambitious, but I hope to win the Olympic gold,” Massialas said. “I think you gotta dream big if you want to do big things.”
Another high school athlete competing in the Olympics this summer is 17-year-old British diver Tom Daley. According to the London 2012 website, this will be his second time attending the Olympic Games; at 14, Daley was the youngest member of the team at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, yet he made the finals of both the individual and synchronized 10 meter platform competitions.
Daley began diving when he was eight, and by the time he was eleven he was already called one of Britain's best gold medal hopes for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Though Daley is just like every other teenager, going to school on weekdays and doing homework each night, unlike others, he was a high schooler who devoted an additional 27 hours at the gym and pool each week, according to an article in The Guardian on Oct. 29, 2010. For four hours a day, Monday through Friday, he trained. On Tuesdays and Fridays he also put in two additional hours before school, and on Saturday he trained for another three hours. But because he still had to keep up with his studies, he still only devoted half as many hours to his athletics as his competitors. It’s the Olympics, after all.
Despite being one of the youngest on the diving board, his past experience in Beijing will help him control his nerve. “Of course I was nervous. I’m 14 years old, thinking: ‘Oh, crap, I’m really at the Olympics.’ I’m glad I’ve now been through that experience, as I won’t be overwhelmed in London,” Daley said in the interview with The Guardian.
In an Oct. 2010 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation when he was eleven, Daley had already set huge goals. “My biggest dream is to get a gold in front of a home crowd in London,” he said. “It’s just everyone’s dream when they are a little kid, everyone wants to be an Olympian and get an Olympic gold medal.”
Illustrations by Hoi Leung