Nam Sing Thapa was just 14 years old when his father Warrant Officer Kesh Bahadur Thapa, made him a boy soldier in Malaysia. It was the beginning of a distinguished, 27-year army career.
As a boy soldier, he started boxing and won titles including “The Boys Champion”, “Top Novice Boxer” and many others within Malaysia and Singapore. He joined his father’s Regiment, the 2/6th Gurkha Rifles, in 1962 as a Rifleman (Rfn) and his boxing career took off.
By then Australian Billy Tingle, a well-known boxing veteran, was the coach of the Gurkha boxers. He suggested that the Nepalese government should represent Nepal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. King Mahendra agreed.
And so a team of four Gurkha boxers (Rfn Nam Sing Thapa, Rfn Ram Prasad Gurung, Rfn Bhim Bahadur Gurung, and Rfn Om Prasad Pun, all from the 6th Gurkhas), along with two runners from the Nepalese Army (Ganga Bahadur Thapa /Magar & Bhupendra Silawal) became the first ever Nepalese Olympians.
According to Thapa, the team trained under Coach Billy Tingle and Staff Sergeant Burgess in Hong Kong for a year, led by Major J.S. Keen. They trained twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, while performing their army duties by day. In what would be surprising to present-day athletes, they were given no special dietary treatment during their preparation for the Olympics.
A VC10 army plane took them to Saigon from Kai Tak, Hong Kong and from there to the US Army base on the island of Okinawa. After resting for a couple of days on Okinawa, they took a scheduled domestic flight to Tokyo.
Rfn Ram Prasad Gurung and Rfn Bhim Bahadur Gurung didn’t get past their first opponents. Rfn Om Prasad Pun defeated an Ethiopian boxer in his first match but lost to a Tunisian in his second fight. Thanks to a bye, Rfn Nam Sing Thapa didn’t fight in the first round of contests, but lost to a somewhat bigger and more experienced opponent from America in his opening fight. The two marathon runners from the Nepalese Army did not finish the race.
Although they returned without a medal, the experiences the boxers had gained were invaluable, and they hoped for better results in the next Olympics. However, despite all four boxers being invited to represent Nepal at the 1968 Games in Mexico City, the Brigade of Gurkhas refused to send them. As a result, their boxing careers came to premature ends.
Before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Nam Sing Thapa participated in a competition in Hong Kong named ‘The Hong Kong Colony Belt.’ Despite knocking down his British opponent twice, Thapa was denied a victory that the crowd clearly did not agree with.
The boxing ring was littered with eggs, banana peels, and paper thrown by the outraged Chinese crowd. That same evening, Thapa was invited to a lavish dinner at the Hilton hotel, presented with a trophy for “The Most Improved Boxer in Hong Kong 1963/64”, and offered citizenship of Hong Kong right there as compensation. He declined the offer of Hong Kong citizenship on his coach’s advice.
After 27 years of loyal service, Nam Sing Thapa retired as a Gurkha Captain and went on to serve as the welfare officer of Rapti zone in West Nepal. He returned to Hong Kong as a civilian in 1993, where he worked in the security industry. He is currently enjoying a life of semi-retirement in Hong Kong. He has a son and four daughters, all grownups.
Capt (Retd) Nam Sing Thapa is not only one of the first Olympians from Nepal, but also one of the most active and sought-after Gurkha veterans in Hong Kong and Nepal and his amazing life story has already been depicted in various articles in books, magazines and newspapers. We, the Gurkha community, should not only be proud of him but also learn to have respect for him.
“With hard work, devotion and determination, I genuinely believe we can achieve miracles, and I want to see a Nepali sportsman winning an Olympic medal within my lifetime,” he said with genuine hope and pride. This writer sincerely hopes that his wish may come true.