Legendary India athlete Milkha Singh has paid rich tributes to Balbir Singh Senior who breathed his last on Monday morning in Chandigarh.  Hockey icon Balbir, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, died after battling multiple health issues and was cremated with full state honours. Also Read - Hockey Teams Focussing on Strength Training During Stay at Home

He was 96. Also Read - Hockey: India Women's Team Captain Rani Rampal Reveals Her Only Craving During Coronavirus Lockdown

Apart from being India’s elite sportspersons, Balbir and Milkha worked together for Punjab Sports department in the 1960s. Also Read - 'A Good Attempt at Eyewash': Sudhanshu Mittal Fires Fresh Salvo After FIH Clean Chit to Narinder Batra

“I had a very close association with him,” Milkha, a legendary sprinter, told PTI. “The then Punjab Chief Minister Pratap Singh Kairon had brought us to the Sports Department, which we had joined the as Deputy Directors.”

“We served in the Department for three decades both on the sports side as well as on physical education side,” he added.

The 90-year-old Milkha said that after Dhyan Chand, only Balbir Singh can lay the claim to be called as a hockey legend. “We were great friends. He was very close to me and I feel sad that he is not amongst us now. After Dhyan Chand, if there was any (hockey) legend, it was Balbir Singh senior,” he said.

Milkha said the fact that his generation achieved so much despite not having world-class facilities should serve as an inspiration for the current crop of athletes.

“We did not have facilities but we worked hard and made our country proud. Now, there is every facility, but standard of hockey, athletics, gymnastics has gone down, though we are doing good in some games like badminton, shooting. I feel coming generations should draw inspiration from our lives,” he said.

Pargat Singh, a former India hockey captain, also paid his tributes saying Balbir inspired him to play hocley.

“During his playing days people used to talk about his impeccable ball control. He motivated me to play hockey,” Pargat said.