Flying Sikh is no more: India mourns the death of a legend

Harpal Singh Bedi

New Delhi: Legendary runner Milkha Singh passed away late last night (Friday 18 June 2021) at Chandigarh leaving behind legions of fans and admirers sad and mourning.

In any other country, fans would have celebrated the life of 91-year-Old sportsperson who brought so much glory and happiness, but in India any such thought or suggestion amounts to blasphemy so mourn we must and we are doing that.

Milkha Singh was no ordinary sportsperson. He strode the Indian sporting arena like a colossus in fifties and early sixties.

What made Milkha different than his other fellow athletes. “His self- belief and discipline” said Olympian hurdler GS Randhawa who was with Milkha at Rome and Tokyo.

Randhawa opined that Milkha had competitors but they failed to maintain that discipline and were consumed by little publicity and money.

Milkha, according to hockey Olympian Ajitpal Singh was a torch bearer of Indian sports renaissance “in early years.

The first Indian athlete to win Gold medal at the Commonwealth Games had to struggle at every stage of his life before attaining fame and fortune. Coming from a very humble background he watched helplessly his parents and other siblings being murdered in newly created Pakistan while migrating to India.

He spent his early years as a refugee in Delhi, lived a nomadic life before managing to get into the Army. It seems as destiny was testing him and his dedication and discipline paid off and he never looked back.

But what was so special about him. Not being well educated never deterred him and the way he participated in the events abroad struck awe among his competitors. While most of his compatriots some time junked competition simply because they could not face white rivals, Milkha was exception both with his appearance and attitude.

It is also ironical that in the country where his parents and other siblings were butchered the head of the same very state bestowed on him the title of the “Flying Sikh”.

Yes after 13-years of that massacre it was field Marshal Ayub Khan head of Pakistan called Milkha Singh “Flying Sikh” after he beat the Asian Games champion Abdul Khaliq in a meet at Lahore.

Milkha was reluctant participant at that meet as he did not want to revisit those horrible events of partition, but once forced to go there by the Indian government he rewrote bit of sporting history of the continent.

The three-time Olympian (1956,60 and 64) proved that one can achieve his or her goal with commitment hard work and discipline.

He came close to winning an Olympic medal at the 1960 Rome Games where he was placed 4th and missed out on the podium in the 400m final by just 0.01 seconds.

Some milestones; At Tokyo Asian Games in 1958. Milkha participated in the 200 meters and 400 meters winning gold and setting new records in these events; .1958 Commonwealth Games he won the 400 meters in 46.6 seconds, creating a new record and in the process became the first Indian athlete to win a gold medal in these Games.

In 1960, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru persuaded him to go to Lahore for an Indo-Pak meet. He won a race against much heralded Pakistani Abdul Khaliq in stunning 45.02 sec and in rare gesture General Ayub Khan called him the “flying Sikh”.

In 1962 Asian Games he won the gold in the 400 meters and 4 x 400 relay as well. He lost to Makhan Singh at Calcutta Nationals in 1964 one of his rare defeats in domestic circuit and he decided to hang up his boots.

Later he became director of Sports Punjab.

Some of the tribute which are flooding the  social media:

In his tribute Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “In the passing away of Shri Milkha Singh Ji, we have lost 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. Anguished by his passing away”.

Union Minister for Sports Kiren Rijiju said Indian athletes will give it their all to fulfil Milkha Singh’s dream at the Tokyo Olympics. Olympics are round the corner;  we will have to fulfill Milkha Singh’s wish of India winning medals in Athletes in Olympics.   

The Indian Army also paid homage to the athlete, saying: “The Flying Sikh, a true legend who will continue to inspire generations of sportspersons. The legendary athlete will always be remembered for many firsts in the field of athletics.”

Sania Mirza tweeted saying that Milkha was the “kindest and warmest” and that the world was going to miss him. “Had the honour of meeting you and you blessed me so many times .. the kindest and warmest Palms up together RIP Milkha Singh sir .. the world will miss a legend like you .. #MilkhaSingh.”

“Shri Milkha Singh ji was not just a sports star but a source of inspiration for millions of Indians for his dedication and resilience. My condolences to his family and friends. India remembers her #FlyingSikh tweeted Rahul Gandhi.


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