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The finest athlete India has ever produced: THE FLYING SIKH- Milkha Singh

Milkha Singh, also known as The Flying Sikh, is a former Indian track and field sprinter who was introduced to the sport while serving in the Indian Army. 

Last updated: 26.10.2017
Milkha Singh | Sports Social Blog
Milkha Singh, also known as The Flying Sikh, is a former Indian track and field sprinter who was introduced to the sport while serving in the Indian Army.

Born in November 1929 in Govindpura district, as per the Pakistani records, Milkha Singh had a tough life in early childhood. The family suffered pangs of Partition of India, orphaning the little Sikh. Being disenchanted with his life, he considered becoming a dacoit but instead was persuaded by a brother to attempt recruitment to Indian Army. It was during his service in the Indian Army that he was introduced to athletics. Singh has always been obliged to the army and has acknowledged how he was introduced to the sport saying, “I came from a remote village, I didn’t know what running was, or the Olympics.”

Singh had always had a flamboyant career graph, of hurdles and benchmarks, of lowest low and of breaking records. He represented India in the 200m and 400m competitions of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. His inexperience chained him from reaching the heat stages but the meeting with the then champion inspired him to greater things and provided him with information about training methods. From then, the flying Sikh had set new records in both 200m and 400m races and had also won various medals in the same.

In 1958 he won a gold medal in British Empire and Commonwealth Games, making him the first gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games from Independent India. Milkha Singh was the only Indian to have won an individual athletics gold medal at those games until in 2014.

The 1960 race against Abdul Khaliq of Pakistan was what brought Milkha his other name. He was persuaded by then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru to set aside his harsh memories of the Partition and to run and win for his country. In the post-race comment by then, General Ayub Khan of Pakistan gave Milkha the nickname of ‘The Flying Sikh’. Having showcased his running skills in various National and International Sports meets, Milkha Singh was promoted from the rank of sepoy to junior commissioned officer in the recognition of his success. He subsequently became the Director of Sports in the Punjab Ministry of Education, from which post he retired by 1998.

Singh had been conferred with the Padma Shri following his success in 1958. In 2001, he turned down an offer of the Arjun Award by the Indian Government, arguing that it was intended to recognize young sports people and not those like him. All his medals are donated to the nation. They were displayed at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi but later moved to a sports museum I Patiala, where a pair of running shoes that he wore in Rome are also displayed.

Milkha Singh along with his daughter co-wrote his autobiography titled The Race of My Life (2013). The book inspired Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a 2013 biographical film of Singh’s life. Though the movie rights were sold for one rupee a share of profits were to be given to the Milkha Singh Charitable Trust.

From the beginnings that saw him orphaned, displaced and disenchanted with life, Milkha Singh had been a sporting icon in the country. He has always been an inspiration to many, to deal with the odds and atrocities of life and to emerge victoriously. In 2008, he was described as ‘the finest athlete India has ever produced.’

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