Milkha Singh was born on 17 October 1935 at Govindpura,a village 10 kilometres from Muzaffargarh city in Punjab Province,British India (now Muzaffargarh District, Pakistan) in a Sikh Rathore Rajput family.He was one of 15 siblings, eight of whom died before the Partition of India. He was orphaned during the Partition, when his parents, a brother and two sisters were killed in the violence that ensued. He witnessed these killings.Escaping the troubles in Punjab, where killings of Hindus and Sikhs were continuing,by moving to Delhi, India, in 1947, Singh lived for a short time with a married sister and was briefly imprisoned at Tihar jail for travelling on a train without a ticket. His sister, Ishvar, sold some jewellery to obtain his release.He spent some time at a refugee camp in Purana Quila and at a resettlement colony in Shahdara, both in Delhi.
Introduction to Athletics
Singh tried to get into the Army 3 times, but was rejected. Finally, his brother Malkhan Singh helped him get into the Electrical Mechanical Engineering branch of the Army in 1952, and it was there that he participated at the first sports meet in his life.
Making of a Champion
Under the guidance of his mentor Havaldar Gurdev Singh, Milkha began training hard and harder at the Army to become an accomplished Athlete. He showed his prowess for the first time at the Services Athletic Meet 1955, wherein he finished 2nd in the 200m and 400m race events. After delivering a much better performance and winning both the events at the National Games 1956 held at Patiala, Milkha went on to break the 200m and 400m records in the National Games 1958, held at Cuttack. He clocked 46.1m in 400m at National Games 1960 that was considered to be a World class performance of that time. But, his best had still to arrive.
Milkha represented the nation in the Melbourne Olympic Games 1956, his first Olympic event. Although he couldn’t fare quite well at the event being less experienced at the time, he learnt a lot from the competition to prepare himself well for the future meets. The most important occasion in Milkha’s career arrived in the form of Rome Olympic Games 1960. In the first heat of 400m race at the Rome Olympic Games, he covered the race at 47.6 seconds and finished at 2nd position. In the second heat he further improved his timing and grabbed 2nd position again with a timing of 46.5 seconds. Karl Kaufman of Germany had outclassed him this time. In the Semi Final heat he still finished at 2nd place, although this time he further improved the timing with 45.9, beaten by only Ottis Davis of USA. In the final round of the coveted race, Milkha went off like an arrow and left all other competitors behind till the distance of 250m. It was when he miscalculated his own speed and committed the blunder of his lifetime and perhaps the history of Indian Athletics, by slowing down a bit. Although he tried the hardest of his lifetime to recover the distance, the other opponents had lagged him behind enough for him to catch them again. The competition was so tough that Ottis Davis and Karl Kaufman clocked 44.8 seconds, while Malcolm Spence of South Africa covered the race in 45.5 seconds. Milkha, who was initially leading the race, finished just 0.1 seconds later by Spence, clocking 45.6 seconds. The difference was so minute that the announcement was initially held up and further declared after a photo-finish. Thus Milkha, who was a favorite for the Gold, lost a Bronze by a whisker, probably the closest an Indian Athlete could get to an Olympic Medal till now.
The Golden Period
Probably the best period during Milkha’s career as an Athlete arrived between the year 1958 and 1960. He won Gold Medals in both 200m and 400m events at the Tokyo Asian Games 1958, clocking 21.6 seconds and 47 seconds respectively. At the Cardiff Commonwealth Games held the same year, he improved his 400m timing to 46.16 seconds, and grabbed a Gold Medal again.
Milkha Singh got name “ Flying Sikh”
During the 1950s, Singh's biggest rival was Abdul Khaliq, a runner from Pakistan.In 1960, Pakistan invited him to compete in Pakistan but, scarred by the trauma of Partition, Singh refused. It was only after then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru convinced him to go that Singh went to Pakistan. One of the spectators who turned up to see Khaliq and Singh compete was General Ayub Khan. Singh won the race, and when Khan was giving away the medals, he told Singh, "You didn't run today, you flew." The Flying Singh nickname caught on from then.Milkha Singh defeated the Fastest Pakistani runner Abdul Khaliq who had won a 100m Gold Medal at Tokyo Asian Games 1958 in the year 1962, and the Pakistani President Ayub Khan named him ‘The Flying Sikh'
Milkha Singh and Arjuna Award
Milkha Singh, probably the most celebrated Indian athlete of all times, refused to accept the Arjuna Award for lifetime contribution, saying: “I have been clubbed with sportspersons who are nowhere near the level that I had achieved”.Milkha Singh said that Arjuna Awards, instituted in 1961, were being given to those who did not deserve them. “I am against this award itself and the way it is awarded”. He said he was of the view that the national sports awards like the Arjuna should be decided by specialists who had a deep understanding of the subject.It is of no use giving such awards to such persons who might produce one freak performance during their lifetime. He also alleged that athletes took to drugs to perform better at home, but once they go abroad they are totally exposed since abroad all athletes are tested for drugs. Milkha Singh wrote in the letter. The prestige of the award has gone down. I will get a bad name if I accept it, Milkha Singh said adding it is surprising that organizers of Asian and other games have also been honored with national awards, especially after the 1982 Delhi Asian Games.’’Milkha Singh said that “after the Padma Shri in 1958, the Arjuna Award in 2001 looks as if the government is trying to give me a matric certificate after an MA degree. The Arjuna Award, least to say, could have been given to me in 1961 when it was first instituted.
Awards & Honors
Honoring the incredible and hitherto the best performance by any Indian Athlete that Milkha Singh delivered throughout his sports career, he was bestowed upon the Padma Shri award (1958) and the Arjuna Award by the Government of India.Milkha Singh ran 80 races all over the world winning 77, He was awarded the Helms World Trophy in 1959 by the USA by virtue of being the best 400-metre runner in the world and broke the Olympic record in the 1960 Rome Olympics.
1)Gold Medal - 1958 Commonwealth Games - 400 m
2)Gold Medal - 1958 Asian Games - 200 m and 400 m
3)Gold Medal - 1962 Asian Games
4)Padma Shri – 1958
5)Helms World Trophy – 1959
82-Year-old Milkha Singh told to PTI
My last desire before I leave this world is that I want an Indian boy or a girl wins an Olympic gold medal for the country and for my sake. I failed to win it in Rome Olympics in 1960.After 2-3 years, I may be no more. Whether I will live for next few years more, it is up to God. I want to see an Indian win an Olympic gold in athletics.Since India gained Independence, only five reached the finals in athletics event and all failed to win a medal.
2)Gurbachan Singh Randhawa (1964)
3)Shri Ram Singh (1976)
4)PT Usha (1984)
5) Anju George.