Milkha Singh is still revered as one of the most celebrated figures in the Indian athletics arena. The ‘Flying Sikh’, broke multiple records in his stellar career in athletics. His life story was brought on the big screen by director Rakesh Omprakash Mehra who made biopic ‘ Bhag Milkha Bhag’ on the legendary athlete.
It was the Asian Games, where Milkha announced his arrival at the international stage. Milkha first ran in 1958 Tokyo games, where he won gold in 200 meters. He ran the race in 21.6 seconds to win the title. Winning the medal was also sweeter as Milkha defeated Pakistan’s Abdul Khaliq in the final.
In 1958, when Milkha Singh first participated in the games, Abdul Khaliq was Asia’s fastest runner in the 100-meter event. This was the first time when Milkha and Khaliq met each other and from there on the rivalry between both the athletes started to gain momentum.
The first time when Milkha met Khaliq in a hotel, Asia’s fastest runner invited the Indian athletes to watch his 200 meter race. During that meet, Khaliq had said that he doesn’t know how many athletes like Milkha has he defeated and there was no contest between both of them. The very next day Milkha went onto win gold in 400m.
Khaliq had won gold in 100m and also went onto break Indian athlete Levi Pinto’s record in the games and create new Asian record on his name. The very next day Khaliq had to take part in the 200 m final. The event had athletes from 6 different countries, but Milkha and Khaliq were favourites to win the title.
The next day when the race began Milkha and Khaliq were running neck to neck in the first 100m, but it was Milkha who overtook Khaliq in the final stretch to win the gold, but the final decision came after a long delay by the judges.
Milkha Singh who spoke about the incident in his book ‘The Race of my life’ said that both of them had eyes on each other and the race was so close that anyone could have won it. Just before the finish line, there was a muscle pull in Milkha’s right leg, but he still ran and fell on the finishing line in pain and at that very moment Khaliq also crossed the finish line. The judges watch the picture from a various angle before declaring Milkha the winner. By doing this Milkha became the second athlete to win gold in 200m. Milkha registered a timing of 21.6 seconds, while Khaliq took 21.7sec to finish the race.
After the thriller at Asian Games, Milkha and Khaliq rivalry got more intense as people from India and Pakistan both enjoyed the clash between both athletes. In 1960 Milkha went onto beat Khaliq in Lahore after which Pakistan’s interim Prime Minister field marshal Ayub Khan gave him the name Flying Sikh’.