Legendary Milkha Singh was proud to call himself a Hyderabadi

Abhijit Sen Gupta
Abhijit Sen Gupta

Hyderabad: India’s greatest athlete Milkha Singh has lost the battle to a cowardly enemy which remains invisible and does not show it’s face. Thousands have succumbed to the deadly virus and our most famous track star was overcome on Saturday leaving the entire nation in mourning. His achievements on the track have been unparalleled.

He was the only Indian athlete who won gold medals in the Asian Games as well as the Commonwealth Games. He represented India in the Melbourne and Rome Olympics and was unlucky not to bag a medal in Rome in the men’s 400 metres race. He misjudged the pace and ran the first half too fast and was unable to hold the speed till the end.

It turned out to be one of the greatest races ever seen in the history of the Olympic Games. Otis Davis of the USA won the gold medal beating Carl Kaufmann of Germany by a fraction of a second. Davis and Kaufmann both broke the 45 second barrier in a photo finish. Third was Malcolm Spence of South Africa and fourth was Milkha Singh. Ironically Milkha Singh had beaten Spence in earlier races.

His connection with Hyderabad

Many years ago, sometime in the mid-1990s, Milkha Singh had visited Hyderabad when he was invited to be the Chief Guest at an army athletics meet at the Artillery Centre in Golconda. I and a few other journalists met him. It was a wonderful moment to shake hands with this legendary athlete and hear what he had to say. He explained that he was not only a Punjabi but also a proud Hyderabadi.

“Main to kehta hoon ki main Punjabi zaroor hoon, lekin main Hyderabadi bhi hoon. Kyunki mere athletics career ki shuruvat yahin se hui thi. Milkha Singh the man may have been born in Punjab but but Milkha Singh the athlete was born in Hyderabad, or to be very accurate Secunderabad, if you wish,” he said.”My first posting after I had joined the Indian army was at the EME Centre. It was here that I began running in races and from here my career developed,” he added.

“Back then, we Indian athletes had little coaching. We were left to fend for ourselves mostly. I tried to learn from books and coaching manuals about what to eat, how many times to run, how long to run and so on. Whenever I met athletes from other countries, I tried to get some information about modern training methods followed in Europe and USA. Some of them gave me helpful tips. But some deliberately gave me wrong information because they felt that I was their rival,” said Milkha.

“But I managed to get some information and by using trial and error methods, I managed to get ahead in my running career. Nowadays the champion athletes have highly qualified coaches, gym instructors who develop specific muscles, dieticians who monitor their body fat, sponsors who supply them with personally fitted running shoes and so on. We had none of these aids in my days. But I have no regrets. I tried hard and I enjoyed the fruits of my labour whatever they were,” he said.

Milkha Singh had frequently said that he wanted to see an Indian athlete winning a medal at the Olympic Games. P.T. Usha came very close to winning a bronze at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 but missed by 1/100th of a second. Thereafter nobody came anywhere near a medal. So Milkha Singh’s dream remained unfulfilled. Rest in peace Milkha Singh Ji.

Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.