For a generation or two, the late milkha singh was one of the biggest names in Indian sport and the country’s first athletics superstar.
arguably, milkha singh’s finest moment was when he finished fourth in the 400m final at the 1960 olympics. a pacing error cost him the bronze by a hair.
It would have been the perfect reward for someone who started his career running cross country in the military. Milkha Singh represented India as a raw talent at the 1956 Olympics and set national records in the 200m and 400m events in subsequent years.
However, Milkha Singh was a legend for reasons beyond what he did at the Rome Olympics.
ruling the asian roost
milkha singh was always known as an extremely committed athlete and his single-minded focus was evident in his 200m and 400m gold medals at the 1958 asian games in tokyo.
The story goes that Milkha approached American Charles Jenkins, the 400m and 4x400m relay gold medalist at Melbourne 1956, after his events and asked for his training routine, which the American was generous enough to share.
milkha singh, then 27, followed jenkins’ routine religiously for the next two years, and it paid off. milkha set national records before the 1958 asian games.
milkha singh was in fine form in his favorite event, the 400m, where he won the gold medal in 47 seconds, nearly two seconds faster than silver medalist pablo somblingo.
however, the second gold was even more special. in the 200m, milkha singh’s main rival was pakistani abdul khaliq, who had won gold in the 100m with a new asian games record and was widely recognized as the best asian sprinter.
milkha, however, was in the shape of her life. She ran the final in 21.6 seconds, setting a new Asian Games record in the process, and fell at the finish line after injuring a leg muscle.
had given him the win by 0.1 seconds and established him as an athlete to be reckoned with.
history in commonwealth games
A month after his two efforts to win gold at the Asian Games, the “Flying Sikh” would provide one of the most memorable moments in Indian athletics to date.
Although the Asian feat was impressive, the commonwealth games, known as the ’empire games’ in those days, would prove to be the true test as they welcomed some of the best athletes from around the world. world.
even milkha singh himself was not convinced. He “wasn’t sure he could win a gold at the commonwealth games. I never had that kind of faith because I was racing the world record holder (malcolm) spence from south africa. he was the best 400m runner at the time,” he told the times of india years later.
However, the Indian sprinter received a smart running strategy from American coach dr. Arthur Howard, who realized that Spence was confident of beating his rivals down the stretch, and told his pupil to do her best throughout the race.
It worked when Milkha Singh surged ahead in the outside lane of the 440-yard dash and his South African rival, intent on catching up, couldn’t find his rhythm down the stretch.
To top it off, the Indian sprinter had also set a new 400m national record of 46.6 seconds.
The moment was euphoric as it made him the first Indian to win gold at the commonwealth games in athletics events.
in fact, milkha singh’s record stood for 52 years, only equaled by discus thrower krishna poonia at the 2010 commonwealth games, and even then, the legend was the only indian male to achieve the feat, until vikas gowda joined him. in 2014.
gold was celebrated with much pomp at home and then prime minister jajahaharlal nehru even declared the following day a public holiday at the request of milkha singh.
another double asian
Following the best year of his career in 1958, Milkha Singh won several European events in 1959 and was steadily peaking for the 1960 Olympics, an event in which he set a new 400m national record of 45.73 seconds and that became his identity for decades to come.
he also aroused the interest of the entertainment industry and his life story was brought to the big screen by director rakeysh omprakash mehra in the 2013 bollywood biopic ‘bhaag milkha bhaag’ which began with a shot of Rome 1960.
However, two years after the heartbreak, Milkha Singh showed his desire and commitment to the sport once again by winning two more gold medals at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta.
He was up against fellow countryman and rising star Makhan Singh, who had won him gold at the national championships that year.
“if there was one person i feared on the track, it was makhan. he was a superb athlete, who brought out the best in me,” milkha singh said much later.
However, on the day of the 400m final at the Asian Games, the Indian legend retained his Games crown, beating his younger colleague for gold by half a second.
The duo then teamed up in the 4x400m relay final, and along with Daljit Singh and Jagdish Singh, won it in an Asian Games record time of 3:10.2, adding a fourth Asian Games gold to the milkha collection.