Milkha Singh, an ace sprinter and one of India's first sport superstars overcame a childhood tragedy to become the country's most celebrated athlete. India lost a gem of an athlete on June 18 as he passed away due to Covid related complications at the age of 91.
He rose from every setback like a phoenix and conquered the world of athletics with his determination and grit. Thanks to his performances across the globe, he dominated the field of sprinting for more than 10 years, winning multiple laurels for the country and scripting numerous records.
Legends never die! This is why Milkha Singh will always be alive in all those priceless medals he won for the country and he will stay alive in all those budding athletes whom the 'Flying Sikh' inspired time and again.
Milkha Singh had contracted COVID-19 and was unwell for quite some time. The 91 year old sprinter lost to COVID-19 on Friday however after giving a tough fight for over a month.
"It is with extreme sadness that we would like to inform you that Milkha Singh Ji passed away at 11.30 pm on the 18th of June 2021. He fought hard but God has his ways and it was perhaps true love and companionship that both our mother Nirmal ji and now Dad have passed away in a matter of 5 days. We are deeply indebted to the doctors at PGI for their valiant efforts and the love and prayers we received from across the world and from yourselves," his family said in a statement.
His biography, "The Race of My Life", was published in July 2013 and was later converted into a Bollywood movie, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, in which Farhan Akhtar played the lead role.
While his sporting achievements are celebrated, the hardships he went through as a child are truly heartbreaking. Milkha had to move from Pakistan to India in 1947 during the partition. He lived in Govindpura of Punjab Province (now part of Pakistan). He was orphaned during this process, with the riots resulting in the deaths of several members of his family. Milkha joined the Indian army in 1952 and was posted in Srinagar. His talent on the track was soon spotted by those in charge as Milkha became a regular in sporting meets within the army, be it long or short-distance running.
His stories as a track and field athlete as well as his emotionally traumatic childhood are both inspiring. He was the first male athlete from the country to reach the final of a track and field event in the 1960 Olympics. He missed out on a medal with the narrowest of margins, finishing fourth in the 400-meter race.
He earned the nickname of 'The Flying Sikh' from the then President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan, during the Dual Championship in Lahore. The event was emotionally tough for Milkha due to his traumatic childhood memories.
Milkha married Nirmal Kaur in 1962 who was the captain of the Indian national volleyball team. Nirmal Kaur also passed away on June 13 after fighting complications related to Covid-19.
The couple have three daughters and a son, Jeev Milkha Singh, who is a golfer. In 1999, Milkha and Nirmal had also adopted the 7-year-old son of Havildar Bikram Singh after he was martyred in the Battle of Tiger Hill.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes to the athlete and called him a "colossal sportsperson, who captured the nation's imagination and had a special place in the hearts of countless Indians."
"His inspiring personality endeared himself to millions," PM Modi said in a tweet. "Flying Sikh" Milka Singh indeed ran his race well.