When I was an Olympian

Overcoming snags to reach field of dreams

Ajit Singh Gill, 88, was 28 when he represented Singapore in hockey at the Melbourne Games. A fete and funfair was held to raise funds for the trip.
Ajit Singh Gill, 88, was 28 when he represented Singapore in hockey at the Melbourne Games. A fete and funfair was held to raise funds for the trip.

The Olympics is the pinnacle of an athlete's career. Singapore has sent athletes to the Summer Games since London 1948 and has a modest haul of two silvers and two bronzes. What has been worth its weight in gold however, has been the memories garnered from these experiences. Jonathan Wong and Yogaraj Panditurai speak to three former Olympians about their unforgettable moments.

The 1956 Olympics will always have a special place in my heart. I will forever remember it as an event which brought everyone together from all walks of life.

I was part of the largest Olympic contingent in the Republic's history. There were 52 of us from six different sports. Of course, it was only possible because Singapore sent out an 11-man basketball squad, an 11-man water polo team and the largest of them all - the 18-member hockey team.

It was also the one and only time in our history that Singapore competed in those three sports at the Olympics. I'm proud to have made a mark for my country on the world stage in hockey.

It was a trip of a lifetime but it almost did not happen. It cost $30,000 to send the team to Melbourne and we all had to somehow pitch in.

Just days before our first match, a fete and funfair was organised at the Padang. Enough was raised to ensure we could go to Australia.

We arrived in Melbourne but some of our equipment did not. It came late. We also lacked the proper training apparel for the cold weather. The team overcame these obstacles in our way and were ready to do the country proud. Our focus was on putting in quality performances in our group games, hopefully good enough to reach the semi-finals.

  • AJIT SINGH GILL

  • AGE: 88
    OLYMPIC PARTICIPATION: Melbourne 1956 - Hockey (finished eighth overall)

Our first match was a roaring 6-1 victory over the United States but it must be mentioned they were relatively inexperienced and had just started out in the sport.

Next, we beat Afghanistan 5-0 in convincing fashion. But our biggest test came against defending Olympic gold medallists India.

We lost 0-6 but in reality, we actually fought very hard against the eventual champions. That put us second in our group, which meant we missed out on a semi-final spot.

Singapore lost three more matches subsequently - 0-13 against New Zealand and two 5-0 defeats by Belgium and Australia. We finished eighth overall out of the 12 teams.

The Melbourne outing was also the last time I played hockey competitively.

I'm glad to say that I enjoyed the experience in 1956 very much but more so the spirit of everyone coming together to raise money for us. It was truly special. It showcased the Singapore Olympic spirit.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2016, with the headline 'Overcoming snags to reach field of dreams'. Print Edition | Subscribe