Track star Milkha Singh, who inspired generations of Indians, passed away in Chandigarh on Friday. His age was uncertain, but he was either in his late 80s or early 90s.
His family said that the reason for this was complications of Kovid-19. He had tested positive for coronavirus on May 20 and was in and out of the hospital for a month. His death came just five days after the death of Nirmal Kaur, his wife of 58 years and a player in his own right.
He was cremated with state honors and the state of Punjab observed a day of mourning.
Nicknamed the Flying Sikh, Singh overcame great adversities to become a sports hero, representing the aspirations of his fellow citizens during the difficult period when India had thrown off the shackles of colonialism.
At the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo, he won gold medals in both the 400- and 200-meter events. A few months later, he won a gold medal in the 400 meters at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales, becoming the first Indian to win a gold medal in the history of the competition. It will be more than 50 years before India wins another gold medal for athletics at the Commonwealth Games. He also won a gold medal at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.
But he is best known for finishing fourth in the 400 meters at the 1960 Rome Olympics, where he missed out on the bronze medal by a tenth of a second. After a blistering start – he was in the lead over 250m – he decided to slow down because he was worried he might fall.
It was a decision for which he regretted till the end of his life. Several Olympic records were broken in that race, and Singh’s time of 45.6 seconds surpassed the previous record of 45.9, but that day was not enough. In several subsequent interviewsSingh called it the worst memory of his life after the death of his parents.
Milkha Singh was born into a large farming family in the village of Gobindpura, now Pakistan, in the early 1930s. Most sources say that he was 91 years old; His date of birth is stated in his passport as November 1932, but in his autobiography he said that he did not actually know the date. He was the seventh of eight children born to Sampoorna Singh and Chawli Kaur.
His passion for running was the motto of his life. During his carefree childhood, he used to run to school every day and race trains for fun. Later, during the violent Partition of India in 1947, he had to flee an angry mob that massacred most of his family.
In his autobiography, “The Race of My Life” (2013), Singh tells of his father being killed. “As soon as he fell, the father shouted ‘Bhaag Milkha, Bhaag'” – “Run, Milkha, run.” “With my father’s warnings running through my head, I ran for my life.”
He managed to board a train bound for Multan, where he was reunited with his only surviving brother, Makhan, a soldier in the Indian Army, who brought him across the border to India. After spending days at the Old Delhi station as a 15-year-old refugee, he manages to locate his elder sister Ishtar and her family, who fled undivided Punjab to India.
Ishtar’s in-laws were angry with the other mouth-feeding, and she was often abused and given little to eat. He found a job at a rubber factory, but was determined to join the military, a career that offered stability to a young man with little education and no prospects. He was dismissed three times for being underweight before he was finally appointed in November 1952.
It was the army that saw his talent for running and provided him with the rigorous training required to excel at the national and international level. The first competition to enter the army had a prize that was too tempting for an undernourished young man: a glass of milk every day.
Over the next few years, Singh trained tirelessly; After losing in the heats at his first Olympics in Melbourne in 1956, he doubled.
He wrote in his autobiography, “To keep myself determined to my goal, I renounced all pleasures and distractions, to keep myself fit and healthy, and dedicated my life to the ground where I practiced.” and could run.” “Thus running had become my god, my religion and my favorite.”
In 1963, she married Nirmal Saini, who took the Sikh surname of Kaur. Because she was a Hindu and he was a Sikh, her family was opposed to the marriage at first, but in the end they agreed. By this time, Singh had left the army and was working for the Punjab government as deputy director of sports, developing sports infrastructure and setting up training programs for youth across the state.
His wife was a former volleyball captain for the Indian team, who also worked for the sports department of the government. Singh is survived by his three daughters, Alija Grover, Dr. Mona Singh and Sonia Sanwalka; his son, Jeev Milkha Singh, a professional golfer who in 1998 became the first Indian to join the European Tour; And many grandchildren.
Singh was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour, in 1958. A Bollywood film about his life, “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”, was released in 2013 and was a success both critically and commercially.