A look at the achievements of 'Flying Sikh' Milkha Singh
Legendary Indian sprinter Milkha Singh passed away on Friday after a month-long battle with COVID-19. Famously known as the 'Flying Sikh', Milkha continued to inspire young athletes in the country with his story. Milkha, who is the recipient of India's fourth-highest civilian award, the Padma Shri, represented the country in three Olympic Games. We take a look at his major feats.
Milkha was born on November 20, 1929 in Govindpura, which is now a part of Pakistan. He was introduced to track and field games after he came to India in 1947 and joined the Indian Army. Milkha was handpicked for further training as he finished sixth in a cross-country race that comprised nearly 400 soldiers. This laid the foundation of an illustrious career.
In his first Olympic Games came at Melbourne 1956, Milkha didn't progress beyond the heat stages in either the 200 m or 400 m. However, a meeting with champion Charles Jenkins gave him the required motivation to compete further. In the 1958 Asian Games (Tokyo), Milkha gave India its first track and field medal, after winning gold in 200 m and 400 m.
In 1958 (Tokyo), Milkha won the title in 21.6 seconds. He defeated Asia's fastest runner back then, Abdul Khaliq, in the final. Notably, the latter took 21.7 seconds to finish the race. The rivalry between the two became intense in the following years. In 1960, Milkha went on to defeat Khaliq in Lahore, following which then-Pakistan President Ayub Khan termed Milkha the "Flying Sikh".
In the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Milkha secured gold in 400 m with a new national record (46.6 seconds). He became the first Indian to clinch a Commonwealth Games gold in track and field. Milkha remained the only Indian male to have an individual athletics Commonwealth Games gold for 56 years before discus thrower Vikas Gowda claimed one in the 2014 edition.
In the Rome 1960 Olympics, Milkha participated in the 400 m event. He was leading till the half-way point before he decided to ease off. His mistake allowed others to overtake him. As a result, a photo-finish was required to declare the result. Milkha finished fourth with a timing of 45.73 seconds, a national record that stood for 40 years.
Milkha missed the bronze medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics by just 0.1 seconds. He bagged a couple of gold medals in 1962 at the Asian Games (Jakarta). He called time on his career after participating in the Tokyo 1964 Olympics (4x400 m relay). The Flying Sikh was awarded the Padma Shri, India's fourth-highest civilian honor, as a recognition of his sporting achievements.