- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

BEIJING | Today, the Olympics.

Next week, Notre Dame.

That’s the schedule for the youngest U.S. male athlete at the games, Gerek Meinhardt, born July 27, 1990, who will compete in individual foil fencing at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday EDT against Egypt’s Mostafa Nagaty.

Meinhardt will leave China on Sunday, stop in San Francisco to pack his belongings and head to orientation in South Bend, Ind., on Aug. 21.

On a team on which he’s the youngest by eight years, Meinhardt reached the Olympics one quadrennial earlier than expected.

“I had a 10-year plan, and this is the sixth year, so I had this process all ready for him to follow and then make 2012,” said coach Greg Massialas, who appeared in the 1984 and 1988 Games.

Meinhardt made his senior level debut in January 2007. When he placed seventh in a tournament in Cuba, the chances of making the 2008 Games became realistic.

“I would say he’s a prodigy,” Massialas said. “He’s very creative. When you really look at him, it’s about his mental approach to things. He has good physical characteristics, but he has a great mental approach to things.”

A consistent medalist at the junior world level, Meinhardt became the youngest national foil champion last year at 16. His goals for the Olympics are more modest: win two matches to reach the quarterfinals.

“I don’t really have any pressure on me,” he said.

Foil is the discipline most young fencers start practicing. Competitors wear a vest, and the sport is governed by right of way rules. For example, a point isn’t awarded to the first hit but instead to the first hit that comes with priority by showing an attack.

Meinhardt started fencing when he was 9 upon taking lessons from a family friend. Unlike most fencers, it was not a family sport.

“I really loved it right away,” he said. “It’s a really unique sport and really challenging when you first start, and you can’t hit anything. There’s always something to work on. Everybody likes certain things about the weapon they use, but I have an affection with foil because it’s what I’ve always worked on.”

As he began to dominate the local and then regional junior events, Meinhardt started traveling around the country. And then the world, which meant trips to every continent but Australia.

“I was traveling two to three weeks out of every month,” he said. “My freshman and sophomore years, I went to an independent high school, but my last two years, I took my classes online. The day before a competition, I would be the only one sitting in a hotel lobby so I could get Wi-Fi and write my essays.”

Although he will continue to fence internationally, Meinhardt is looking forward to a more structured academic setup. Notre Dame is one of the top varsity fencing programs in the nation. Kelley Hurley, an Olympian in women’s epee, also fences for the Irish.

Meinhardt was recruited by Stanford and several Ivy League programs. But some extended work in Beijing is expected to make the whirlwind schedule seem easier.

“This is priceless for him,” Massialas said. “It’s not just the Olympic Games, which is fantastic, but the road to get here. The fact he’s ranked 10th going into these Olympics is already a big step forward. As part of our plan, in four years, it’s gold medal time.”

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