Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Flying Sikh (Milkha Singh)

Milkha Singh (born 20 November 1935), also known as The Flying Sikh, He was born on 20 November 1935 at Govindpura, a village 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from Muzaffargarh city in Punjab Province, British India (now Muzaffargarh District, Pakistan). He was one of 15 siblings, eight of whom died before the Partition of India. He was orphaned during the Partition, when his parents, a brother and two sisters were killed in the violence that ensued. He witnessed these killings

Thereafter, in 1947, he escaped the troubles in Punjab, where killings of Hindus and Sikhs were continuing, by moving to Delhi in India. There he lived for a short time with a married sister and was briefly imprisoned at Tihar jail for travelling on a train without a ticket. His sister sold some jewellery to obtain his release. He spent some time at a refugee camp in Purana Quila and at a resettlement colony in Shahdara, both in Delhi.

Disenchanted with his life, Singh considered becoming a dacoit but was instead persuaded by a brother, Malkhan, to attempt recruitment to the Indian Army. He was successful on his fourth attempt to gain entrance, in 1951, and while stationed at the Electrical Mechanical Engineering Centre in Secunderabad he was introduced to athletics. He had run the 10 km distance to and from school as a child and was selected by the army for special training in athletics after finishing sixth in a compulsory cross-country run for new recruits. Singh has acknowledged how the army  and Havaldar Gurdev Singh in particular — introduced him to sport, saying that "I came from a remote village, I didn't know what running was, or the Olympics is a former Indian track and field sprinter. As of 2013, he is the only Indian male athlete to win an individual athletics gold medal at a Commonwealth Games. He represented India in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. He was awarded the Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian honour, in recognition of his sporting achievements.

The race for which Singh is best remembered is his fourth-place finish in the 400 metres final at the 1960 Olympic Games, which he had entered as one of the favourites. He led the race for some time before easing off. allowing others to pass him. The first four to cross the line all broke the Olympic Record and a photo-finish resulted, American Otis Davis being declared the winner by one-thousandth of a second over German Carl Kaufmann. Singh's fourth-place time of 45.73 became the Indian national record and held for almost 40 years. In 2008, journalist Rohit Brijnath described Singh as "the finest athlete India has ever produced". In July 2012, The Independent referred to him, saying that "India's most revered Olympian is a gallant loser" and noting the paucity of success 20 medals achieved by Indian competitors in the Olympic Games despite the country having a population in excess of one billion.

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