Guwahati, June 19: Indian sprint legend flying Sikh Milkha Singh passed away last night after a month-long battle with COVID-19. The Padma Shri awardee is survived by his golfer son Jeev Milkha Singh and three daughters. His wife Nirmal Kaur lost her life recently to the Coronavirus infection.
Honorary Captain Milkha Singh was an Indian track and field sprinter who was introduced to the sport while serving in the Indian Army. He was the only athlete to win gold in 400 meters race at the Asian Games as well as the Commonwealth Games. He also won gold medals in the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games.
The Flying Sikh represented India in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, and the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. He was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honor, in recognition of his sporting achievements.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Home Minister Amit Shah have expressed grief over the demise of sporting icon Milkha Singh. They also expressed their deepest condolences to his family and countless followers.
The passing of sporting icon Milkha Singh fills my heart with grief. The story of his struggles and strength of character will continue to inspire generations of Indians. My deepest condolences to his family members, and countless admirers.
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) June 18, 2021
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. pic.twitter.com/h99RNbXI28
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 18, 2021
India mourns the sad demise of legendary sprinter Shri Milkha Singh Ji, The Flying Sikh. He has left an indelible mark on world athletics. Nation will always remember him as one of the brightest stars of Indian sports. My deepest condolences to his family and countless followers. pic.twitter.com/HsHMXYHypx
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) June 18, 2021
Saddened at the demise of ‘Flying Sikh’ Captain Milkha Singh. His laurels had not only made India swell with pride but also inspired generations of sports enthusiasts. My condolences to his family. Om Shanti! pic.twitter.com/EVQs0ipkUw
— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) June 18, 2021
Heartfelt tribute to Padma Shri Captain #MilkhaSingh who left us all for heavenly abode yesterday. My deepest condolences. Three time Olympian and a Commonwealth gold medalist, the legendary #FlyingSikh’s legacy would continue to inspire generations of youths to come. pic.twitter.com/b4lVAkpmA7
— Pema Khandu པདྨ་མཁའ་འགྲོ་། (@PemaKhanduBJP) June 19, 2021
I’m deeply saddened by the demise of legendary sprinter Shri Milkha Singh Ji. Known as the Flying Sikh, he will continue to inspire generations of Indians and his legacy will remain unmatched. My deepest condolences to the bereaved family and countless admirers around the world. pic.twitter.com/I4ZHtZIuZs
— N.Biren Singh (@NBirenSingh) June 19, 2021
The great man #MilkaSingh ji has left us in body, but the name Milkha will always live on as being synonymous with courage and will-power.
What a man. My sincere condolences to his family. Om Shanti 🙏 pic.twitter.com/AW2FbM3zg1
— Virender Sehwag (@virendersehwag) June 19, 2021
Dark clouds of sadness prevail with the demise of my idol and inspiration Milkha Singhji. His story of sheer determination and hard work inspired millions and will continue to do so. As a tribute to him, students of Usha School paid homage to the legend.
Rest in Peace 🙏 pic.twitter.com/mLBQQ2ge3v
— P.T. USHA (@PTUshaOfficial) June 19, 2021
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar has expressed sadness over the demise of legendary Indian sprinter Milkha Singh. In a tweet, Javadekar said, he will always remain an inspiration for all.
मिल्खा सिंह भारत की शान थे। उनके निधन से गहरा दुःख हुआ। कुछ दिन पहले उनकी पत्नी का भी निधन हुआ। पिछले साल मैं उनके घर २ घंटे रहा व बातचीत की। दोनों बहुत ही प्रसन्न और दीलदार व्यक्तित्व के धनि थे। ॐ शांति .
— Prakash Javadekar (@PrakashJavdekar) June 19, 2021
Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju has expressed grief over the death of Milkha Singh. In a tweet, Rijiju said that
India has lost its star. He said, Milkha Singh Ji has left us but he will continue to inspire every Indian to shine for India. Rijiju expressed his deepest condolences to his family.
मैं आपसे वादा करता हूँ मिल्खा सिंह जी कि हम आपकी अंतिम इच्छा को पूरा करेंगे।
India has lost it's star. Milkha Singh Ji has left us but he will continue to inspire every Indian to shine for India. My deepest condolences to the family. I pray for his soul to rest in peace🙏 pic.twitter.com/mQVRvfozkB
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) June 18, 2021
Independent India’s global superstar: The Flying Sikh
India, still a young nation in the late 1950s and early 1960s, didn’t know what global stardom was till Milkha arrived at the scene. He changed the narrative, and till today, significantly, few Indian sprinters have come close to matching his calibre and the rich legacy he left behind. Milkha had also won four Asian Games gold medals – 200m and 400m in 1958, and 400m and 4x400m relay in 1962.
He was also the first athlete to win a Commonwealth Games gold for India in then 440m yard race, achieving the feat during the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games. Milkha’s first commonwealth gold was truly a watershed moment in Indian sporting history, which led to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declaring a national holiday on his request.
The importance of Singh’s triumph can be underlined by the fact that his record in track and field stayed intact for another 52 years, till Krishna Poonia won the women’s discus throw during the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Born in an undivided Punjab’s Govindpura village (now in Pakistan), among 14 other siblings, Milkha endured one too many tragedies in his childhood. He saw the massacre of his parents and few other siblings during the riots preceding the partition in 1947.
Milkha joined the Indian army in 1951, after failing twice in his previous attempts. He ran his first race — a cross country of five miles — there when army coach Gurdev Singh promised an extra glass of milk to those who finished inside top-10.
He finished sixth and later got selected for special training in 400m. The rest, as they say, is the most incredible legacy in India’s sporting folklore.
In his autobiography, on which the blockbuster Bollywood movie ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ is based, he claimed that He won the selection trial at the 1956 Olympics despite being brutally assaulted by his rivals the day before that race.