Legendary Indian athlete Milkha Singh, passed away at 11.30 p.m. on Friday, after a battle with Covid-19 for almost a month. He was 91, and is survived by a son, ace golfer Jeev Milkha Singh, and three daughters.
He was born in Layalpur, in undivided India and now in Pakistan. His love with athletics began after he enrolled himself with the EME Corps of the Indian Army.
Milkha Singh was also known as ‘Flying Sikh’ and here’s the fascinating story of how he got that name.
It was the summer of 1958, one might say the best year in Milkha’s career. He won the 200m and 400m national records, and claimed a golden double (200m and 400m) at the Asian Games in Tokyo and then went onto win the become India’s first athlete to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.
In the 200m at the Asian Games came, he had a memorable photo-finish with Pakistan’s Abdul Khaliq, as Milkha went onto win gold by one-tenth of a second.
“I remember the scorn their (Pakistan’s) coach reacted with when our coach introduced me to him before the race. But after I won, Pakistanis were very gracious and they invited me to race in Lahore,” Milkha Singh recalled to Firstpost.
Initially, Milkha Singh had refused to travel to Pakistan, haunted by the memories of Partition. It took the persuasiveness of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to convince him to go.
“The Pakistanis offered me a memorable welcome. I entered Lahore via Wagah border in a decked, open jeep, and people had lined up on either side of the road with flags of both countries. It was so special."
After Milkha beat Khaliq, General Yahya Khan, at the podium, famously called him the ‘Flying Sikh’.
“He said, Milkha ji, you didn’t run in Pakistan, you flew. We would like to give you the title of Flying Sikh. So if people know me by that moniker, it’s all because of Pakistan’s generosity,” he had said.