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Milkha Singh

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Milkha Singh was born on 20 November 1929 according to records in Pakistan, although other official records various state 17 October 1935 and 20 November 1935. Milkha Singh was born into a Sikh Rathore Rajput family in Punjab, in undivided India during the pre-independence days. He was one of 15 siblings, many of whom died during childhood. The partition of Indian happened when he was still a teenager. In the violence that ensued, he witnessed the killings of his parents and several siblings before his very eyes. His father, as he lay dying told Milkha to run for his life. Hindus and Sikhs were targeted and mercilessly killed in Punjab. He escaped to Delhi in 1947. Thankfully he had a married sister living there who helped him in his rehabilitation. He was very heart broken and disillusioned after losing so many members of his family and he considered becoming a dacoit. However, one of his brothers advised him to join the army instead.

 

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Career

He tried to join the army thrice but was rejected. Finally he got selected in his fourth attempt. In 1951, he was stationed at the Electrical Mechanical Engineering Centre in Secunderabad and that’s when he was introduced to athletics. As a young boy living in a rural place, he had the habit of running the 10 km distance to reach his school. His early habit of running helped him finish sixth in a compulsory cross-country run for new recruits. He was selected by the army for special training in athletics. Realizing that he had potential, Milkha was determined to become the best he could. He started training five hours daily, often running in difficult terrains like the hills, the sands on the bank of rivers, and against a meter gauge train. His training was sometimes so intense that he would be sick with fatigue.

He was chosen to represent India in the 200m and 400m races in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. At that time he was so raw that he could not progress beyond the initial stage. However his acquaintance with the 400m champion at the event, Charles Jenkins, gave him knowledge about proper training methods, and thus inspired him to do better next time. He participated in the National Games of India in Cuttack in 1958 where he set national records for the 200m and 400m. The same year he won a gold medal in the 400m competition at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, making him the first male Indian to have won an individual athletics gold medal at those Games. He won the gold medal at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo beating the Pakistani runner Abdul Khaliq. This prompted an invitation from Pakistan in 1960 for another race. Initially Milkha decided not to go as the burning memories of the partition were still fresh in his mind.

Jawaharlal Nehru convinced Milkha to get over his past and go to Pakistan. His race against Abdul Khaliq was a much anticipated one—over 7,000 people had gathered in the stadium to watch the race. Milkha once again beat Khaliq in a nail-biting finish. Impressed by the Indian athlete’s performance, the then President of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan, who had also witnessed the historic race complimented him by saying that he did not run, but flew. Thus Milkha gained the famous title—The Flying Sikh. He participated in the 1960 Olympic Games in which he was one of the favorites. He finished fourth in the 400m final which was eventually won by the American Otis Davis. Losing at the Olympic is something that haunts the great athlete even today. During his later career he became the Director of Sports in the Punjab Ministry of Education, a post from which he retired by 1998.

 

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Personal life

As of 2012, Singh lives in Chandigarh. He met Nirmal Kaur, a former captain of the Indian women's volleyball team in Ceylon in 1955. They married in 1962. They have three daughters and a son, the golfer Jeev Milkha Singh. In 1999, they adopted the seven-year-old son of Havildar Bikram Singh, who had died in the Battle of Tiger Hill.

 

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Awards

1959:- Padma Shri

 

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