Journey of the Flying Sikh

Overview and Early Life Milkha Singh, a legend in the history of Sports and Athletics was an Indian track and field sprinter born on 20th November, 1929. He was born in a Sikh family in Govindpura, a village 10 km from Muzaffargarh city in Punjab Province. He had 14 other siblings, eight of them died during the partition of India. Milkha was orphaned during the partition, when his parents were killed by a Muslim mobs in violence. He witnessed the killings. After seeing the deadly situation in Punjab, he decided to escape and came to Delhi, India in 1947 and lived with the family of his married sister for a short period of time. He was imprisoned in Tihar Jail for travelling in Train without ticket. His sister, Ishvar helped him in getting released. He spent his further some time at Refugee Camp , at Purana Quila and at a resettlement colony in Shahdara, both in Delhi. Milkha was discontented with his life and decided to become a dacoit, but was instead persuaded by his brother, Malkhan, to attempt to the recruitment to the Indian Army. He successfully gained entrance on his fourth attempt, in 1951, and while stationed at the Electrical Mechanical Engineering Centre in Secunderbad he was introduced to athletics. He had run the 10 km distance to and from school as a child and was selected by the army for special training in athletics after finishing sixth in a compulsory cross-country run for new recruits. Singh has acknowledged how the army introduced him to sport, saying that “I came from a remote village, I didn’t know what running was, or the Olympics”. International Career He was introduced to athletics and sports when he was recruited in Indian Army, at the Electrical Mechanical Engineering Centre in Secundarbad. He represented India in the 200 and 400 m competitions held in Olympics at Melbourne in 1956. In 1958, Singh set records for the 200m and 400m in the National Games of India, held at Cuttack, and also won gold medals in the same events at the Asian Games. He then won a gold medal in the 400m 2 / 3 (440 yards at this time) competition at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games with a time of 46.6 seconds. This latter achievement made him the first gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games from independent India. 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. Jawaharlal Nehru tried to convince Milkha Singh to set aside his memories of his past during the Partition era, to focus on the to race successfully in 1960 against Abdul Khaliq in Pakistan, where a post-race comment by the then General Ayub Khan led to him acquiring the nickname of The Flying Sikh. At the 1962 Asian Games, held in Jakarta, Singh won gold in the 400m and in the 4 x 400m relay. He attended the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where he was entered to compete in the 400m, the 4 x 100m relay and the 4 x 400m relay. He did not take part in either the 400m or the 4 x 100m relay and the Indian team of Milkha Singh, Makhan Singh, Amrit Pal and Ajmer Singh were eliminated when they finished fourth in the heat stages of the 4 x 400m. There have been claims that Singh won 77 of his 80 races, but these are spurious. The number of races in which he participated is not verified, nor is the number of victories, but he lost a 400m race at the 1964 National Games in Calcutta to Makhan Singh and he did not finish first in any of his four races at the 1960 Olympic Games or the aforementioned qualification races at the 1956 Olympics. Singh’s time in the 1960 Olympics 400m final, which was run on a cinder track, set a national record that stood until 1998 when Paramjit Singh exceeded it on a synthetic track and with fully automatic timing that recorded 45.70 seconds. Although Singh’s Olympic result of 45.6 seconds had been hand-timed, an electronic system at those Games had determined his record to be 45.73. Later Life Milkha was promoted from the rank of sepoy to junior commissioned officer in recognition of his successes in the 1958 Asian Games. He 3 / 3 subsequently became Director of Sports in Punjab Ministry of Education, a post he retired from in 1998. Milkha was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, following his success in 1958. In 2001, he turned down an offer of the Arjuna Award from the Indian government, arguing that it was intended to recognize young sports people and not those such as him. He also thought that the Award was being inappropriately given to people who had little notable involvement as active sports people at all. He said that “I have been clubbed with sportspersons who are nowhere near the level that I had achieved” and that the award had become devalued. While sharing his wealth of experience in a college in Goa on 25 August 2014, he also said, “The awards nowadays are distributed like ‘prasad’ in a temple. Why should one be honored when he or she has not achieved the benchmark for the award? I rejected the Arjuna I was offered after I received the Padma Shri. It was like being offered an SSC [secondary school] certificate after securing a Masters degree.” All of Singh’s medals have been 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. In 2012, he donated the Adidas shoes that he had worn in the 1960 400m final to be sold in a charity auction organized by actor Rahul Bose. Milkha 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. His wife, Nirmal Kaur, had died a few days earlier on 13 June 2021, also due to COVID-19.