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Thursday, July 1, 2021

the legend flying Sikh leaves ever-lasting imprint !

Legends never die !  .. they leave ever-lasting imprints !!


Day 1 of World Test Championship at Southampton was washed out – many of us are following .. .. other than Cricketers, not many sportpersons have garnered Nation’s awe and attention.

One great man, an  Army man, a track legend, and a trailblazer who demanded excellence from all those who represented India, is no more ! — Milkha Singh passed away from COVID-19 complications yesterday.   Missing what could have been India’s greatest track and field medal — a bronze at the Rome Olympics in 1960 by 0.1 seconds — independent India’s first sporting superstar taught a nation entering its teens what a heartbreak felt like.

Captain Milkha Singh (20 November 1929 – 18 June 2021), is the only athlete to win gold in 400 metres race at the Asian Games as well the Commonwealth Games. He also won gold medals in the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games. He represented India in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. He was awarded the Padma Shri, in recognition of his sporting achievements.

The race   best remembered is his fourth-place finish in the 400 metres final at the 1960 Olympic Games, which he had entered as one of the favourites. Various records were broken in the race, which required a photo-finish and saw American Otis Davis being declared the winner by one-hundredth of a second over German Carl Kaufmann. Singh's fourth-place time of 45.73 seconds was the Indian national record for almost 40 years.

The title ‘Flying Sikh’ was accorded from a totally different quarter. The then Pakistan President, Ayub Khan, had invited Indian athletes for an Indo-Pak sports meet in Lahore.

It was the Asian Games, where Milkha announced his arrival at the international stage. Milkha first ran in 1958 Tokyo games, where he won gold in 200 meters. He ran the race in 21.6 seconds to win the title. Winning the medal was also sweeter as Milkha defeated Pakistan’s Abdul Khaliq in the final. In 1958, when Milkha Singh first participated in the games, Abdul Khaliq was Asia’s fastest runner in the 100-meter event. This was the first time when Milkha and Khaliq met each other and from there on the rivalry between both the athletes started to gain momentum.  Milkha went onto win gold in 400m too.   When the race started,   Milkha and Khaliq were running neck to neck in the first 100m, but it was Milkha who overtook Khaliq in the final stretch to win the gold, but the final decision came after a long delay by the judges. Milkha Singh who spoke about the incident in his book ‘The Race of my life’ said that both of them had eyes on each other and the race was so close that anyone could have won it. Just before the finish line, there was a muscle pull in Milkha’s right leg, but he still ran and fell on the finishing line in pain and at that very moment Khaliq also crossed the finish line. The judges watch the picture from a various angle before declaring Milkha the winner. By doing this Milkha became the second athlete to win gold in 200m. Milkha registered a timing of 21.6 seconds, while Khaliq took 21.7sec to finish the race.

After the thriller at Asian Games, Milkha and Khaliq rivalry got more intense as people from India and Pakistan both enjoyed the clash between both athletes. In 1960 Milkha went onto beat Khaliq in Lahore after which Pakistan’s interim Prime Minister field marshal Ayub Khan gave him the name Flying Sikh’.

Milkha Singh was born on 20 November 1929 at Govindpura, a village 10 km (6.25 mi) from Muzaffargarh city in Punjab Province, British India (now Muzaffargarh District, Pakistan). He was one of 15 siblings, eight of whom died before the Partition of india. He was orphaned during the Partition when his parents, a brother and two sisters were killed by Muslim mobs in the violence that ensued. He witnessed these killings !  Escaping the troubles in Punjab, where killings of Hindus and Sikhs were continuing,  by moving to Delhi.  He joined Indian army and  while stationed at the Electrical Mechanical Engineering Centre in Secunderabad he was introduced to athletics.  

Before Vikas Gowda won the gold in 2014, Milkha was the only Indian male to have won an individual athletics gold medal at those Games. At the 1962 Asian Games, held in Jakarta, Singh won gold in the 400m  and in the 4 x 400m relay.  

All of Singh's medals were donated to the nation. They were displayed at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi and later moved to a sports museum in Patiala,  where a pair of running shoes that he wore in Rome are also displayed.  Milkha Singh was admitted to the intensive care unit at Fortis Hospital in Mohali on 24 May 2021 with pneumonia caused by COVID-19. His condition was, for a while, described as stable, but he died on 18 June 2021 at 11:30 PM IST. Sad that his wife, Nirmal Kaur, had died a few days earlier on 13 June 2021, also due to COVID-19.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
19th June 2021. 

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