Olympics: A look back on the career of Fencer Tim Belson
PUBLISHED: 09:00 31 July 2020
Back in 1980, Tim Belson should have been celebrating one of the greatest moments of his life, after he was offered the captaincy of the British Fencing team for the Moscow Olympics in Russia.
However, due to Afghanistan being invaded by the Russians, the UK government gave support to a boycott which was backed up by 65 countries along with the governments of France and Australia.
The final decision over participation was left with the British Olympic Association and the decision of their individual athletes.
“It was really a devastating blow that took a while to sink in,” remembered Belson, who had a role in the Army.
“Because you suddenly realise all your life you have been waiting for this moment when you were at your best. I would’ve been at my best, I had been National champion, and to find out it was suddenly taken from you and was something out of your control, it was a devastating blow.”
As for Belson and his fencing team the decision to go or stay was in their hands.
Belson was born in Weston, where he says he is “very proud” of coming from, before going to live in Bath, being brought up in Newton St Loe, before moving up to London and attending Worth school in Sussex, which sparked an interest in fencing at the age of 13.
“My dad thought it would be a good thing for me, so I thought I would give it a go,” he said.
“Being tall, left-handed I realised I was quite useful and we had the benefit of an amazing coach, who had coached a number of Olympic fencers and he was very inspirational. A lovely guy and he brought me on.
“Then in 1968 at the end of my school career I won the National Schoolboy Championship. I thought to myself ‘well if I can win that maybe I can get into the Great Britain under-20 team and get some training’.
“I did more training when I left and I got selected for the under-20 team and I’ve never looked back from there.”
Around the same as being called up to GB under-20s, Belson joined the Army aged 19, before being commissioned in 1971, and he served in Northern Ireland as military officer, which came just after the World Championships in South Bend, Indiana.
But Belson wouldn’t have to wait long to experience his first taste of the Olympics as he was stationed in Munich, Germany, at the time of the 1972 Games.
“I had very much my eye on going to the Olympic Games in 1976, that was my all-time goal,” he said.
“I wasn’t going to get to the Olympics Games in Munich, however as I was stationed in Germany, I did make my way down there to watch and found that inspirational. I watched some of the fencing, I went to the archery quite a bit.
“The next four years between my military duties and various postings I was classified as a real amateur. I had to fulfil my duty as an Army officer as much as I could.
“I couldn’t just say I was a full-time fencer. It was frustrating because those years were very important years when I had been expected to train at my hardest.
“During that time, I had my duties in Northern Ireland and in the British Army, where I was serving, I couldn’t really do much training.
“It was quite tough because on the one hand you had sport, your ambition in mind, on the other side of it you had to report for duty.
“I carried on and then I got some decent international results and I got picked for the Olympic team in 1976 to go to Montreal.
“That was a fantastic moment for me, a fantastic experience, something I would never forget.
“In many ways I was too young to go the Olympics to realise the full indication of what’s involved.
“I trained the best I could for the Games but it was very difficult to compete against some of the other countries that were of course almost fully professional like from the Eastern Bloc.
“We were very amateurish but we went and had an amazing time.”
Team GB have won nine fencing medals at the Olympics, including one solitary gold from Gillian Sheen in 1956 in Melbourne.
And despite competing in both the individual épée, where he picked up two wins over Italian Nicola Granieri and Canadian Alain Dansereau, and the team épée, where he helped his country finish in the top 10 in Montreal, Belson would put in more hard work over the course of the next four years as he looked in good shape to go one better in Moscow.
He added: “I was a lot more experienced, I was taken more seriously. The Army were more supportive of me and it put me in a position where I could train harder, which is what I did.
“I got stronger, I got harder, I got leaner, I got more into tune. Then around January of 1980, news was coming through of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and that put me in a difficult position, because I was in the Army.
“At that time Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative government decided we shouldn’t send a team, although she couldn’t stop people going.
“Was the team going? Was it not? There was a lot of speculation and it killed it for me.
“Unfortunately, I did make the decision not to go and it would have been really difficult for me to go because the Army would have made my life really difficult if I had and I decided I wouldn’t go. I didn’t go, that was it.
“Strangely enough I did get a call from the Margaret Thatcher, she was very brief, saying ‘I applaud your decision about you not going’ and that was it, very short, very sweet, straight to the point.
“I’m not a politician but it was one of those things where I was swept up with the whole system, what was going on, and I just didn’t go and that was it.
“That was a massive blow, particularly as I was asked to captain the team as well, which was quite an honour and I couldn’t go and it was devastating really.
“After that it was pretty difficult to pick up the career after that moment. Shortly after that I left the Army and I didn’t do too much fencing after that.”
Some 40 years later Belson says he doesn’t “believe in regrets” about what has happened and draws his own experience with the current Olympics, with this year’s games in Tokyo delayed until next year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
And he says he can feel the frustration for some of the Olympians who have missed out.
“To suddenly have it all taken away from you and you have got to wait until next year when things will change, you got to re-qualify, restart, a totally different team selected,” said Belson.
“You have got to start all over again and you might have mapped your career out, you have got something planned in 2021, you have a job to go to, you finished your role as a sportsman and everything has been turned upside down.
“It’s devastating, devastating for potential Olympic sportsmen and women who will get hit by this virus.
“If you go to the event and you fail at least you have the satisfaction you went, you did your best, you trained, you gave it your all and it wasn’t good enough. Ok, fine, you accept that, you come away, I wasn’t good enough but I did achieve that.
“In many ways the problem is you would never get an opportunity to put that to the test when you are at your peak and that’s the difficult part of it.”
Today Belson is the co-founder of Prestige Valuations, where he is their Managing Director, which is the UK’s leading jewellery valuation service and will celebrate their 38th anniversary this year.
Despite the uncertainty and confusion with the virus, Belson says the business is still going strong.
“You need to have a certain amount of determination to keep on going, you must push forward and never give up,” he added.
“If you believe in yourself and you are positive you will get where you want to be.
“Whatever decisions you make and I’ve made plenty, but I’ve made some good decisions along the way as well and you hope you make more good decisions rather than bad decisions and you stay ahead and you keep going.
“I’m working everything through, it’s a difficult time obviously, but fortunately I’ve got a good sound solid business and we will come through out of all this and we will be fine.”
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Weston Mercury. Click the link in the orange box above for details.