13 September 2016 – Among the many Old Boys’ blazers at the Chapel Service on Sunday was a resplendent green blazer, worn by Richard Barnes-Webb (class of 1991), reflecting his national colours for fencing. That’s a pretty remarkable achievement at the not so young age of 44.
“I feel slightly self-conscious. I don’t get many opportunities to wear it,” Richard said.
Richard Barnes-Webb was part of the 1991 class that celebrated their 25th reunion during the recent Old Boys weekend in Bloemfontein
His fencing story started, he said, at Saint Andrew’s, through Ewan and Douglas Seton. Then, in 1997, he moved to London, which was followed by a move to Malaysia. His skills grew a lot in the South East Asian nation, where he worked as an IT consultant.
In Malaysia, he trained under a Thai coach, who had fenced at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and who was also a past South East Asian Games champion. He also trained with three young boys who are now ranked numbers one, two and four in Malaysia. He became a far better fencer. And, as he pointed out, he could beat them then…
While abroad, among his most prized results was winning the Fencing Singapore International 2014 veterans men’s foil individual title.
Now, back in South Africa, he is focusing on veterans’ competition, looking ahead to future World Championships, because competing with much younger men is very challenging, although it can be done successfully, as he has proved.
“Strategy and guile”
“As you get older, you have to rely a lot more on strategy and guile, because my reactions just don’t compare to the younger guys. There are a lot of mind games,” he explained.
“The juniors are much faster and more aggressive than the seniors, even at the Olympic level. The top guys tend to be between 25 and 30 [years of age].
“[Being more experienced] you learn how people are going to react to you. You do lots of feints and second intentions. You mix it up a lot more, and also you start off your attacks slowly, whereas the young guy comes from the other end of the piste, just charging.”
Richard is left-handed, which, he feels, gives him a slight advantage. “People are not used to it and I can get around other people,” he said.
He now belongs to a club in Johannesburg, which includes a number of veterans with international experience, which keeps him sharp, and he is expecting to stay in the game for a lot longer, Richard reckoned.
“It is a life-time sport,” he said.