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Last Updated: Friday, 21 November, 2003, 07:12 GMT
Arnie - live at Maesteg Town Hall
By Catryn Jenkins
BBC News Online

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Schwarzenegger - here with wife Maria Shriver - on election night
It's a long way from the south Wales valleys to movie superstardom and the governorship of California.

But as Arnold Schwarzenegger is sworn in to his new political role, Welsh bodybuilding devotees have recalled his appearance in the unlikely surroundings of Maesteg Town Hall only weeks before he muscled his way to fame.

He was a rising name in bodybuilding when he was invited to the Mr Wales contest in 1967.

The Terminator star, who was officially sworn in as California's 38th governor on Monday, was at the time a relatively unknown Austrian with an even thicker accent than today.

But within weeks of his visit to Wales he became the youngest-ever winner of Mr Universe.

No-one could pronounce his name then, and now it just rolls off the tongue
Ex-Mr Wales Norman Fricker
Norman Fricker, now 62, of nearby Blaengarw, who became Mr Wales two years after Schwarzenegger's guest appearance at the competition, said: "No-one knew who he was.

"We would go and have a coffee with him and chat. In his broken English he would tell us about his father being a policeman and how he started training when he was 14 or 15.

"He was a nice bloke with a lovely sense of humour and an infectious laugh. Bodybuilding was his life.
Arnold Schwarzenegger
The Mr Universe title was won by Schwarzenegger five times

"We tried to pick his brains, but he didn't give a lot away, although he would tell us about diet and so on."

"No-one could pronounce his name then, and now it just rolls off the tongue."

'Fantastic body'

Pensioner Joan Thomas from Maesteg remembers sitting next to the Californian governor at the competition.

"He was 20 and I was 32," said Mrs Thomas.

"He had an absolutely fantastic body.

"Everyone was so impressed because his muscles were so big.

He had women coming up to him just to touch the muscle on his arms
Joan Thomas

"He had women coming up to him just to touch the muscle on his arms.

Mrs Thomas used to go to the competitions to support her brother, PE teacher Ben Elsome, who also used to compete.

She remembered Schwarzenegger "was a nice man, but he was only 20 and a bit shy".

"He hadn't entered the competition, he had just come down with the other weightlifters.

Arnold Schwarzenegger
The star of The Terminator has put his film career on hold
"But he did do a pose for the audience - a statuesque pose.

"At the time his English wasn't very good so he couldn't understand me and I couldn't understand him.

"I think he must have taken away a bit of Maesteg luck when he left because straight after his visit he won competition after competition.

"I didn't realise at the time that I was sitting next to a future star," she said.

Schwarzenegger returned to Wales in 1971, again for a guest spot when the Mr Europe final was held at the Afan Lido in Aberavon.

By that time, he was already a millionaire after investing his winnings in property and a mail-order company - and starting out on the road that would take him right to the top in both movies and American politics.


SEE ALSO:
Schwarzenegger and the American dream
08 Oct 03  |  Entertainment
Arnie becomes California governor
17 Nov 03  |  Americas
Arnie steals Ugandan thunder
09 Oct 03  |  Africa
Clint Eastwood's praise for Arnie
10 Oct 03  |  Entertainment



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