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Athletics

If only Milkha Singh's last wish to see an Olympic medal came true

India's legendary sprinter Milkha Singh passes away. The man who had wished to see India winning an Olympic medal in athletics departs with an unfulfilled dream.

Milkha SIngh passes away dies Olympic medal Athletics
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Milkha Singh (Source: ETV Bharat)

By

Md Imtiaz

Updated: 19 Jun 2021 1:10 PM GMT

It is a night of mourning for the country's sports fraternity as India's legendary sprinter Milkha Singh passes away. The 91-year-old revered as the 'Flying Sikh' was one of the pioneers who showcased the strength of India on the world athletics stage. India could never unearth a Usain Bolt in its long but forgettable athletics history, however, the name of Milkha would be etched in golden letters on the front page of it.

Milkha's life story, which was later brought to the silver screen, bears testimony of India's freedom struggle, the pangs of partition and the journey from nobody to somebody. Orphaned at an early age, Milkha moved to India from Pakistan in 1947 and managed to survive by working in restaurants. Life only took a turn when he joined the Indian Army. In between his unbridled love for milk and desperation to quench his thirst revealed the true talent of Milkha. His sprinting abilities left the entire country in awe.

After winning the national trials in the 200-metre and 400-metre sprints, he was eliminated during the preliminary heats for those events at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.

Milkha Singh


At the 1958 Asian Games, Milkha won both the 200-metre and 400-metre races. Later that year he captured the 400-metre gold at the Commonwealth Games, which was India's first athletics gold in the history of the Games. However, what could have still be the greatest moment of Indian athletics, Milkha missed an Olympic medal by a whisker. Milkha entered the 1960 Rome Olympics, with the entire nation's hope pinned on him.

Taking part in the 400m race, Milkha eased it through the heats. He even bettered his timings by more than a second in the quarterfinals. Just behind USA's Otis Davis, he finished the semifinal in 45.9 seconds, becoming the first-ever Indian to reach the finals of an athletics event in the Olympics.



Tragedy struck in the final - as Milkha, who the nation hope could bring India's first athletics medal, made an error of judgement on his final turn that slowed him down. South Africa's Malcolm Spence edged past him to win the bronze medal. Milkha finished just 0.01 seconds behind leading to a photo finish. This 0.01 second time became the number that haunted India for the time to come as it was closest an Indian had reached of an athletics medal in the Olympics.

Milkha, who slipped his medal, by just a flash of an eye lived a long life to tell his heroics to the rest of the world and inspiring generations and generations of Indian athletes. Five years ago, in 2016, Milkha had exhorted:

" I failed to win a medal in 1960 Rome Olympics and it hurts me till today. More than half a century has passed since then but no Indian has been able to win an Olympic medal in athletics. It is my last wish to see an Olympic medal around an Indian athletes' neck on the podium at the Olympic Games."
In about a month, India will be taking the field in yet another Olympics in Tokyo. Milkha, who fought for over a month in the hospital departs tonight without seeing his last wish come true. A postponed Olympics further robbed off his dreams last year. But who knows, if life wasn't this cruel and if Milkha's departure could have been stopped, he could have probably embraced India's first athletics medal at the Olympics.







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