New Delhi | Jagran Sports Desk: One of independent India's biggest sporting icons, ace sprinter Milkha Singh, died on Friday after a month-long battle with COVID-19, during which he lost his former national volleyball captain wife Nirmal Kaur to the same ailment. The Padma Shri awardee, who was nicknamed 'The Flying Sikh' for his accomplishments, was 91 and is survived by his golfer son Jeev Milkha Singh and three daughters.

"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," read a statement from the family.

Born in 1929 in Govindpura, a village near Punjab province in British India, Milkha Singh developed an interest in athletics as a young boy. Milkha Singh was orphaned during the partition in 1947 and later was introduced to the sport while serving in the Indian Army.

It was his stint with the Indian Army which helped sharpen his running skills. Milkha Singh first grabbed the eyeballs when he outperformed 394 soldiers of the Indian Army and finished sixth in a cross-country race and was picked for further training and grooming. Since then, there was no turning back and Milkha went on to become the Flying Sikh of the country.

In his first major sporting event, Milkha Singh represented India at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. He competed in 200m and 400m race, however, the trip to Melbourne was ended only as a learning experience for young Milkha who returned empty-handed. Milkha's star shone brightest in 1958 when he set a national record.

In the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo, Milkha, high on spirit, gave India its first track and field medal by winning Gold medals in 200m and 400m races. He also set the Asian record for the 200m race. The win was more special as Milkha defeated Pakistan sprinter Abdul Khaliq, who was considered as the fastest man in Asia in 1958 and after Milkha defeated him, he was given the title The Flying Sikh.

Prior to that race, Milkha had won the gold in 400 metres while Khaliq had clinched the gold medal in 100 metres and with the Indian sprinter winning the 200 Metres race, he took the honour of then "Asia's Best Athlete".

In the same year in the Commonwealth Games, Milkhha's winning run continued and he won a gold medal in 400m with a new national record time of 46.6s. With the win, Milkha bevcame the first Indian clinch a gold in track and field category. He remained the only CWG gold medallist for India for a long time until Krishna Poonia won the top honours in the discus throw at the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi.

Milkha again represented India at the 1960 Olympics held in Rome. The race for which Milkha is fondly remembered is his fourth-place finish in the 400 metres final at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. He had entered as one of the favourites in the showpiece event. During the race, Milkha was leading the charge before he lost momentum and was overtaken by the other sprinters. According to the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), various records were broken in the race, which required a photo-finish and witnessed American Otis Davis being declared the winner by one-hundredth of a second over German Carl Kaufmann.

Commenting on the race, he had told AFI: "I started the race very well and was leading at 250 metres. A strange thought came to my mind...'am I running too fast? Will I be able to finish the race with this speed?' So I slowed down and dropped my speed and the rhythm with which I was running. As you know once you drop the rhythm, it is hard to regain it."

In 2013, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a film on the legendary sprinter was made to showcase his incredible struggle from being an orphan to becoming one of the greatest athletes of all time. Bollywood actor Farhan Akhtar essayed the role of 'The Flying Sikh' in the biographical drama. It was through this movie that the sprinter attracted more fans and the young audience got to know about the legend of the man.

Milkha represented India at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. He still is the only Indian athlete to win Gold in the Asian and Commonwealth Championship. He was awarded the Padma Shri, India's fourth-highest civilian honour, in recognition of his sporting achievements

Posted By: Talibuddin Khan