The 'Flying Sikh' who won India's first Commonwealth gold
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The 'Flying Sikh' who won India's first Commonwealth gold

He was a true inspiration to all, an epitome of grit, determination and a personification of passion

The 'Flying Sikh' who won India's first Commonwealth gold

New Delhi: Popularly known as ‘The Flying Sikh’, Milkha Singh died at the age of 91 on Friday night due to past COVID-19 complications. He was one of India’s greatest track and field sprinters who have made the nation proud on numerous occasions.

Milkha was a true inspiration for all, an epitome of grit, determination and a personification of passion. From his sporting achievements to national  awards, Milkha’s journey to success was a heroic tale. Born in 1929, Milkha was raised with 14 siblings and unfortunately, was orphaned  during the partition. Eight of his siblings passed away before the partition. Tragically, Milkha witnessed his parents, two sisters and a brother killed during the partition.

In one of his interviews with Financial Express, he said, “We were from a village that’s now in Pakistan’s Muzaffargarh district, in Kot Addu tehsil. Our village was 10 km away from the city. The boys had to walk barefoot for 10 km from the village to the school in Kot Addu. The stretch was sandy and in the months of May and June, you can imagine how hot it would get. We would run for a kilometre, stop when we found a patch of grass, cool our feet and then run again. Also, there were  two 50-ft-wide canals that we had to cross. We did not know how to swim but we would tie bamboo sticks to our feet. On our way back, we would run back 10 km. Every day, we would cover 20 km. So I have seen a lot of hardship.”

Milkha’s childhood was extremely harsh on him. From being locked up in jail for travelling in a train without a ticket to spending time in a refugee camp in Purana Qila. In order to make ends meet, Milkha wanted to become a dacoit, but with the help of his brother’s persuasion, Milkha joined the Indian Army, and that’s where his life changed.

As witnessed in the movie ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, Milkha had to run to and back from school, a distance of 10 km, which helped in taking up a sport – running. The Army helped him to train and well, his speed and commitment spoke for itself. From there on, there was no looking back for Milkha.

1958 Asian Games – After gaining experience in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Milkha represented India in the Tokyo Asian Games in 1985. Milkha participated in the 200 meters and 400 meters track race in which Milkha secured gold in the events and set new records as well.

1958 Commonwealth Games – After his success in Tokyo, Milkha participated in the 400 meters race and completed it in 46.6 seconds, setting a new record and securing gold. His achievement made Milkha the first sportsperson to win a gold medal from India.

The term ‘The Flying Sikh’ – In 1960, Milkha was  persuaded by then India Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to compete in a race against Pakistan’s Abdul Khaliq. Milkha eventually won the race and was given the name ‘The Flying Sikh’ by then General Ayub Khan as the speedster completed the race in an astonishing 45.8 seconds.

1962 Asian Games – After his disappointing performance in the Olympics, Milkha returned to the tracks in Jakarta, where ‘The Flying  Sikh’ won the gold in the 400 meters and 4 x 400 relay as well.

After 1964, Milkha hung up his boots. He had participated in the National Games and won a few gold and silver medals before 1964, but ‘The Flying Sikh’ understood that he could no longer keep up like he used to.

For his achievements, Milkha was awarded the Padma Shri Award in 1959 following his success at the 1958 Asian Games. Later on, he became the Director of Sports in the Punjab Ministry of Education.

In 2013, Milkha’s daughter Sonia Sanwalka wrote his autobiography titled ‘The Race of My Life’. The book eventually inspired film director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra to create a film on the athlete’s life titled, ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’.

Other than the movie and auto-biography, Milkha also has a wax statue which has been created by the Madame Tussauds in Chandigarh.

Our heartfelt condolences to the family.