Milkha Singh, also known as The Flying Sikh, was an Indian track and field sprinter introduced to the sport while serving in the Indian Army. He is the only athlete to win gold in 400 meters at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games. He also won gold medals in the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games.
He was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, in recognition of his sporting achievements.
Unfortunately, Milkha Singh died of Covid-19 complications on 18th June 2021 at 91.
Here are some of the lesser known facts about Milkha Singh –
- The term ‘The flying Sikh’ was given to Milkha Singh by then-president of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan, when Milkha Singh defeated the fastest man in Asia, Pakistan’s Abdul Khaliq.
- Milkha Singh wanted to join the Army. But he failed three times in a row. He passed in his fourth attempt in 1951. His first salary was Rs 39 and 8 anna.
- Milkha Singh’s long hair and beard became the talk of the town during the 1960 Rome Olympics. It was the first time people saw such a sportsperson with “unique headgear.” People at first thought he was a saint! They wondered how a saint could run so fast.
- Milkha Singh became one of the finest sportspersons that India had ever produced but was inclined to become a dacoit. The troubles he went through in his childhood and the traumatic experiences initially saw Milkha taking the route of crime, but fate had other ideas for him.
- Milkha made his maiden Olympic appearance in the 1956 Melbourne Games but was eliminated in the initial rounds. In 1958, he started to gain global recognition, having won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games that year. In the 1960 Rome Olympics, he finished 4th and smashed his own 400m national record by clocking a time of 45.73.
- He was even sent to the Tihar Jail once for travelling on a train without a ticket. His sister had to sell her jewellery to aggregate enough money for Milkha’s bail.
- The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared a holiday for a day to reward him for making the country proud after Mikha asked for it.
- Milkha Singh donated all his medals and sporting treasures to the country and is now part of the Sports Museum in Patiala.
- The winner of India’s first Commonwealth gold, Milkha, declined the government’s Arjuna Award in 2001 saying “it came 40 years too late”.
- In 1999, Milkha adopted the 7-year-old son of Martyr Bikram Singh, who fought in the Kargil War.