First fencing Olympian a master of many skills


  • Other Sports
  • Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Still going strong: At 90, Ronnie lifts weights five days a week.

WHEN Malaysia and Singapore marched as one for the only time in Olympics history in 1964, Ronnie Theseira was beaming with pride in front of the cheering, 48,000-strong crowd at the Kasumigaoka National Stadium in Japan. Ronnie was 34 then, and a rookie at the Olympics.

But he’s a man who has so many accolades now, that it’s almost impossible to list them all. Ronnie set up the Malayan Amateur Fencing Association in 1959.

MAFA became the Malaysian Fencing Federation (MFF) in 1981 and gained affiliation with the Olympic Council of Malaysia through Ronnie’s efforts.

He was Melaka boxing champion in 1951 and an active football player. He was also a weightlifter an coached bodybuilder Clancy Ang, the first Malaysian to win the Mr Universe title in 1962. And at 90, he’s is still giving tuition to children.

The most amazing of all was that he learnt all his fencing from books.Off to Japan: Ronnie represented the country at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.Off to Japan: Ronnie represented the country at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Still, it was no easy feat for him book his place in the Games – even after he had qualified.

Ronnie was set to make history then as the first Malaysian to fence at the Olympics, an achievement not to be repeated again until 48 years later when Yu Peng Kean made the cut for sabre in London in 2012.

But it almost did not happen. The medical assistant officer at Malacca General Hospital flew in to Tokyo two days before the competition started, only to find that his name was not on the entry list.

His heart sank but, luckily for him, his fluency in Japanese and French won him a place.

“I was selected after winning the national qualifiers but an official didn’t send the entry form to Japan.

“I wanted to use my two days before the competition to warm-up with European fencers so I could be relaxed when the competition started.

“But I ended up running from one place to another in a taxi trying to get my entry confirmed. I also spent a lot of my money on taxis.

“I was told no entries were allowed 10 days before the start of the event but I was lucky as I was taken in to be the interpreter as I can speak French and Japanese.

“I pleaded my case with the boss of the world fencing body, who was a Frenchman and the head of the Japan Olympic Committee.

“I studied Japanese back in 1944 when Malaya was under Japanese occupation. I picked up French when I was accepted for a training stint at the French Academy of Fencing in Paris in the early 60s.

“They were so impressed with my fluency and somehow allowed me to compete.

“It was supposed to be a memorable experience getting ready for competition at the Olympics but somehow I ended up distressed and depressed, ” said Ronnie, who did not advance from the group stages in epee, sabre and foil at the Olympics.

Before his Olympic adventure, Ronnie’s passion for fencing saw him set up the Malayan Amateur Fencing Association in 1959. After it became the Malaysian Fencing Federation (MFF) in 1981, he was president until 1985.

Ronnie, a great-grandfather who just celebrated his 90th birthday last Sunday, may have seen nine decades but he is still a sprightly old man.

“I started lifting weights when I was very young and I have never stopped until today.

“A lot of people ask me why I still train with weights at my age but it’s what keeps me going.

“You need to keep your brain alive and not through pills. I do it by giving free tuition in English, Maths and Science in KL. This way, the kids learn something and my brain stays active.

“Of course, I am not able to do this now because of the Covid-19 outbreak, ” said Ronnie, who still drives down to Royal Lake Club in KL every Saturday to conduct fencing classes.

Ronnie, who is a full-fledged Professor of Fencing, has spent his lifetime contributing to the sport. He ranks as the first Asian to be awarded the European Fencing Masters Diploma and the first South-East Asian to sit on the International Jury of Combat.

Ronnie has been awarded the International Olympic Solidarity coaching certificate and has life membership in the Italian and Spanish Academy of Fencing Masters.

“There is a saying in the sport of fencing that age is only a number. If you look at the records, there have been at least three 60-year-olds who were Olympic champions before.

“Fencing is one sport where strength and speed are not determining factors. To a very large extent, brainwork, guts, tenacity and experience are key attributes.”

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