NEW DELHI: Track legend Milkha Singh, one of the country’s earliest sports heroes, died of Covid-related complications in a private hospital in Chandigarh late on Friday night, leaving the athletics community in shock and disbelief.
The Flying Sikh, 91, lost his wife Nirmal Kaur to the virus earlier this week.
Singh is survived by three daughters – Dr Mona Singh, Aleeza Grover and Sonia Sanwalka as well as golfer son Jeev Milkha Singh.
Jeev, a 14-time international winner, is a Padma Shri awardee like his father and had been coordinating with the medical staff at PGIMER along with elder sister Dr Mona Singh since last month, Indian Express reports.
The 1958 Commonwealth Games champion and 1960 Rome Olympian had tested positive for the virus on May 20 and was admitted to a private hospital in Mohali on May 24. Singh had been discharged on May 30 before he was admitted to the Covid ward at the Nehru Hospital Extension at PGIMER on June 3 due to dipping oxygen levels. The former Indian athlete had tested negative on Thursday earlier this week and was shifted to the medical ICU.
Born on 20th November, 1929, in Govindpuri, which is now in Pakistan, he moved to Delhi in the aftermath of the Partition in 1947 when several members of his family were killed before his eyes. For him to have escaped that and risen to be a national icon in just over 13 years is ample evidence of the grit and determination that backed his natural talent as a sprinter.
He had a personal best of 20.7 seconds in 200m in Lahore on January 31, 1960. It set him up for a gallant show in the Rome Olympic Games where he clocked a national record time of 45.6 seconds in the 400m final on September 6. He took part in his third Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964 as a part of the 4x400m relay team.
Besides his 1960 Olympic Games heroics, Milkha Singh will be remembered his victory in the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff. He won Gold in the 440-yard sprint in a Games Record time of 46.6 seconds. He was the first Indian to win an individual Gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.
Earlier that year, at the Tokyo Asian Games, he won the 200-400m double. He picked up two Gold medals in the 1962 Asian Games to end his career on a high.
He was given the tag of Flying Sikh by Pakistan’s Gen. Ayub Khan in 1960 when the Indian ace beat Pakistan’s Abdul Khaliq in a race in Lahore.
Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwalla led the condolences from the track and field community. “A Titan who lifted the profile of athletics in a young nation, his sharp observations on Indian sport will be missed. His towering legacy will continue to inspire generations of young Indians,” he said.
“It is hard to reconcile to the news that Milkha Singh is no more. We always believed he would return from hospital and cheer our athletes as they prepared for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next month,” Sumariwalla said, reflecting the emotions of the athletics family encompassing several generations and including the whole country.