In the countdown to the 2012 London Olympics, we retrace some memorable Indian moments at the quadrennial games. Today, a look at Milkha Singh’s photo-finish in the 400m final at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
After clocking a world record 45.8 seconds in the 400-meter race preliminaries in France, and finishing second in all of his 400m races prior to the races, Milkha Singh – dubbed 'The Flying Sikh' – was a favorite for the gold medal. Unfortunately, he ended up missing bronze by a fraction.
In the final event he set off strongly to the fore but was overhauled by the field and finished in fourth place, this being a decision that required a photo-finish. It was a gut-wrenching moment for the champion runner.
In later years, Milkha – who in 1959 had won a Commonwealth Games gold in Cardiff – would look back at the 400m final at the Rome Olympics as a tragic moment in his sporting career.
"Since it was a photo-finish, the announcements were held up. The suspense was excruciating. I knew what my fatal error was: After running perilously fast in lane five, I slowed down at 250 metres. I could not cover the lost ground after that - and that cost me the race," he said. "After the death of my parents, that is my worst memory. I kept crying for days."
So dejected was Milkha at failing to win a medal that he even contemplated retiring from athletics. Luckily for India, he was coaxed out of such thoughts and in 1962 won two medals at the Asian Games.