Milkha Singh was a former Indian track and field sprinter who became the first Indian man to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal in individual athletics.
Born on November 20, 1929, Singh represented India at international athletic competitions such as the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, winning multiple gold medals.
He is known as “The Flying Sikh” a title bestowed upon him by Pakistan’s President General Ayub Khan, for his sporting accomplishments.
Singh had entered the 1960 Olympic Games’ 400m race as one of the favourites and had even led the race until the 200m mark before losing his speed and being passed by other competitors.
Even in losing, he broke the 400m national record in India. Milkha Singh’s tale is one of inspiration and optimism. He witnessed the massacre of his entire family in front of his eyes as a teenager.
He worked his way up through life, orphaned and heartbroken, seeking consolation in his art of running. He became successful after years of struggle and later set up the Milkha Singh Charitable Trust, to help struggling sportsmen.
Timeline of Milkha Singh’s life:
1951- Singh became familiar with sprinting after joining the Indian Army in 1951. He was stationed at the Electrical Mechanical Engineering Centre in Secunderabad, this is where he was introduced to athletics.
1956- He was chosen to represent India in the 200m and 400m races in the Melbourne Olympic Games. He couldn’t advance past the initial stage because he was so raw at the time. His acquaintance with the event’s 400m champion, Charles Jenkins, provided him with knowledge of proper training methods and inspired him for next time.
1958- 1. He participated in the National Games of India in Cuttack where he set national records for the 200m and 400m.
2. He won a gold medal in the 400m competition at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, making him the first male Indian to have won an individual athletics gold medal at those Games.
3. He won the gold medal at the Asian Games in Tokyo beating the Pakistani runner Abdul Khaliq. This led to his promotion from a Sepoy to Junior Commissioned Officer in the Indian army.
1959- He was given the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award, for his glorious achievements in the field of sports.
1. He was invited by Pakistan for another race against Abdul Khaliq after his race at the Asian games. He once again won this race, and with ‘flying’ colours. Impressed by him, the then President of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan, who had also witnessed the historic race complimented him by saying that he did not run but flew. Thus Milkha gained the famous title—The Flying Sikh.
2. He participated in the Rome Olympics in which he was one of the favourites. He finished fourth in the 400m final which was eventually won by the American Otis Davis. The record time in this fourth place was 45.73 seconds and it was the Indian National Record for more than 40 years after.
1962- Won Gold medals in 400m and 4x400m relay in The Asian Games.
1964- He made a final Olympic appearance at the Tokyo Games as part of the national
4 × 400 team that failed to advance past preliminary heats.
1. Singh co-authored his autobiography – ‘The Race of My Life’, with his daughter Sonia Sanwalka. The book inspired the popular Bollywood biopic – ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’
2. The movie was directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and the story is based on the life of Milkha Singh, with actor Farhan Akhtar playing Milkha Singh’s character.
2021- The sporting icon died at Chandigarh’s PGIMER hospital on June 18, less than a week after he lost his wife Nirmal Kaur, a former national volleyball captain, to COVID-19