VERY rarely do you ever see a grandson pay tribute to his icon grandfather, more than 60 years his senior, in a special 225-page book, befittingly titled: The Heart of an Olympian.

Luc Gill produced what I thought were the proverbial blood, sweat and tears of Singapore’s oldest Sikh-Olympian Ajit Singh Gill and the book-launch was perfectly done at Sunday’s 90th birthday bash at the Singapore Island Country Club.

Luc Gill, who is the oldest son of Dr Mel Gill (Ajit’s eldest son) dedicates the book to his legendary hockey-hero grandfather, with the endearing words, “his endless love for everyone he encounters, his bravery in the face of the worst adversities and his positive attitude towards every obstacle he confronts has taught me what it means to be a man”.

“In this book, I wanted to share the great life that my grandfather had come to know,” says 27-year-old Luc, a crypto-currency dealer and fitness guru. “I thought his wisdom should be immortalised in a book which would capture his faith, passion and rich cultural roots”.

He poignantly pointed out that the four-letter word ‘Ajit’ in Sikh language symbolised “the one who cannot be defeated”.

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In a nutshell, Ajit, who was raised in the Sentul, Selangor kampong, where the Central Railway Workshop was located, was an exemplary Olympian, who played hockey in the first and only time Singapore took part in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games

The most poignant lines in the book from Ajit Singh: “Greatness is not seen in the number of medals that you’ve won or the number of people that you’ve defeated…greatness is seen in the number of times that you stood up to fight when you’re hit the hardest.”

Singapore’s longest-serving SNOC (Singapore National Olympic Council) boss S. S. Dhillon, in a special foreward, says “you have this Olympic spirit and legacy, now immortalised in this book, that no other can have but some may try to emulate, and with the lessons contained within, may those striving for gold (medal) find inspiration within these pages”.

Even Singapore icon sprinter Olympian Canagasabai Kunalan of 1964 (Tokyo) and 1968 (Mexico City) Olympics fame hailed the family man in Ajit Singh. He says: “His family was never neglected. And now his family never neglects him! Just imagine the effort that goes into gathering the family and friends from four corners of the globe for his birthday. Who wouldn’t want to like Ajit? “

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Luc, without any serious journalistic experience, nostalgically takes you down the journey to 1928 when Ajit, the eldest of 10 siblings to a Malaysian railway-track supervisor, grew in the toughest of family lifestyles, where he even had to stop school to help support his family.

But truly knowing the values of family spirit, Ajit recounts: “Families are the branches on a tree, we grow in different directions but our roots remain as one. In my belief, family is the most precious thing you can possibly have in this world. Take care of it, cherish it. It is your treasure!”

Perhaps the grandest triumph for retired school vice-principal Ajit, in his words, remains “the success of (my) five children in their chosen careers which speaks loudest for my wife and me”. He adds: “We had five over seven years. We were truly blessed to have a boy and girl in consecutive order!”

The fivesome Gill clan: Psychologist, motivational speaker and author Dr Mel Gill; Specialist English teacher in Hong Kong Inderbeer Kaur Gill; Recently-retired Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Phupinder Singh Gill; Family doctor  at Holland Village, Shivcharan Kaur Gill and lawyer Paramjit Singh Gill, now in real estate.

“They’ve excelled in their career and it gives my wife and me the biggest personal satisfaction that we’ve achieved our family targets to the maximum,” he says.

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Reflecting on his life, he adds: “The happiest moment of my life was on January 1, 1957 when I married my darling wife Surjit.  The saddest moment was when I lost my mentor and my father. This book my grandson wrote is everything he taught me.”


The never-say-die spirit in Ajit brews from his true-blue Sikhism way of life, inherited from his late father Milkha Singh. He says: “Nobody started a climb from the peak. Therefore, we must invest the time we have on the groundwork that will lead us to our destiny.”

Over 17 chapters, spanning 225 pages, with a prolific spread of family and sporting photographs., Luc, who is on track to graduate with honours from the University of Oxford Fintech Programme, sums up his grandfather’s indomitable spirit: What it means to be a champion with the heart of an Olympian.

Believe me, seldom in a life-time do you ever see a grandson pay tribute to his icon grandfather, more than 60 years his senior, and preach the very embodiment of Olympicism – a philosophy whereby the qualities of body, will and mind are blended together to create a way of life, one that is based on the educational value of always setting a good example and the respect of universal ethics.

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Another grandson Brij Marne, reflecting in the book, also praised his “brave, determined and selfless” nanaji (grandfather, in Hindi). He says: “A simple man yet very firm in character. Nanaji always encouraged us (grandchildren) to give our best in all our endeavours. As a result, much credit should be given to him for inculcating a mindset that there are no shortcuts to success and that nothing comes without hard work.”

Brij adds: “Nothing has ever been too difficult, too tiring or too much for my nanaji. Even if he had to give the shirt off his back to a person in need, he would do so without any hesitation. For a man who has given so much to the people around him and the world, it would be a travesty if his journey and stories were not shared.”

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Even the late Singapore President S.R. Nathan, in a private dinner for friends and family, said to Ajit Singh directly that “Singapore was proud of him and further called on him to continue inspiring other Singaporeans to live their lives to the fullest as he had done”.

‘The Heart of an Olympian’ is a must read, by hook or crook.

I end with the awesome lines of Ajit Singh in the priceless book: “Any man can fight when it feels good, when they’re prepared and when they’re at their best. But what sets a warrior apart from a man is the simple truth that warriors keep fighting, come what may.

“Their faith in themselves and in what they want to achieve remains unwavering in the face of all adversity. And that itself makes all the difference. Blood, sweat and tears don’t even come close.”

Nicely reflecting on the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Ajit Singh’s memories of 62 years remains fiery, just as the irrepressible fire in his belly: “At the Olympic Games, everything is on the line, making each and every triumph that much bigger, bolder, and at times, breathtaking.”

Don’t wait. Get the special book, please!

The Luc Gill-authored book is published by Pandora Publishing House at  – BY SURESH NAIR


  • Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who feels Ajit Singh Gill is a worthy role-model ambassador from the first modern Olympics which were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. He’s truly got the heart of an Olympian.
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