Milkha Singh Dies At 91: Here Is The Story Of Him Becoming ‘Flying Sikh’

by Shatakshi Gupta

Legendary Indian sprinter Milkha Singh, popularly known as ‘Flying Sikh’, died last night. 91-year-old Milkha Singh was admitted to the hospital due to COVID-19.

Milkha Singh was one of the most successful athletes in the sports history of India. From the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the then President of Pakistan, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, everyone was a fan of Milkha’space.

His life:

Milkha Singh was born on 20 November 1929 in Govindpura (now in Pakistan) in a Sikh family. In his childhood,he went through a very hard time. Milkha lost his parents and siblings in the riots that ensued the partition of India. However, Milkha had a passion for running since childhood. He used to run 10 kilometres from his home to school and school to home.

Milkha served in the Indian Army

After four attempts, Milkha Singh joined the army in 1951.  He came in sixth place in the cross-country race during the recruitment, so the army selected him for special training in sports. After this, he came to know about his talent as a runner at the EME Centre in Secunderabad and from there his career started.  Milkha was so obsessed with becoming an athlete that he used to run beside a moving train for practice.

Story of becoming ‘Flying Sikh’

The story of Milkha Singh getting the title of ‘Flying Sikh’ is quite interesting and it starts in Pakistan. In 1960, after Rome Olympics, Milkha got an invitation to participate in the International Athlete Competition held in Pakistan.  Milkha did not want to go to Pakistan because of the bad memories associated with that country. However, later on,with the persuasion of the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, he decided to go to Pakistan.

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In Pakistan, at that time, Abdul Khaliq was a very famous athlete. He was considered the fastest runner in Pakistan. Milkha Singh was competing with him. Being in Pakistan, Abdul had the support of the crowd, but Abudl could not stand in front of Milkha’s pace. After the race, the then President of Pakistan Ayub Khan named Milkha Singh as ‘Flying Sikh’ and said, “Today you were not running, but flying. That’s why we give you the title of Flying Sikh.”

Since then, he became famous all over the world by this name. For his incomparable contribution to sports, the Government of India has also honoured him with the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest honour.

His career in sports

He participated in the 200 meters and 400 meters races for the first time in the 1956 Olympic Games held in Melbourne. His first experience at the international level as an athlete may not have been good, but this tour proved to be very beneficial for him later.

Milkha Singh set records in the National Games held in Cuttack in 1958 in the 200m and 400m events. After this, in the same year in the Asian Games held in Tokyo, he also won gold medals in the 200 meters and 400 meters races.  In 1958, in the Commonwealth Games held in England, Milkha once again proved his talent by bagging the gold medal in the 400 meters race. At that time, he was the first Indian to win a gold medal for India in the Commonwealth Games in independent India.

After the success in the 1958 Asian Games, Milkha Singh got the post of Junior Commission in the Army. At the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, he performed very well in the 400 meters race, but in the final moments he fell behind German athlete Karl Kaufmann by a hundredth of a second and missed out on winning the bronze medal by a narrow margin.

Milkha Singh remained India’s greatest Olympian for decades with his stellar performances in the 1960 Rome Olympics and the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. In the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games, Milkha Singh also won gold medals in 400 meters and four times in 400 meters relay races.