Flying Sikh: The legend lives on

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Express News Service

WE THOUGHT WE WOULD WITNESS HISTORY AT 1960 OLYMPICS  

Gurbachan Singh Randhawa
What can I say about Milkha that hasn’t already been said? When I heard the news, I became extremely sad. It’s a black day for Indian sport. He was, inarguably, for that time, one of the best Indian athletes to have emerged. Scratch that, he was probably the best Indian athlete at that time. What set him apart was the way he conducted himself, both on and off the track. On the track, he was a champion. Off it was where he put in the hard yards to become a champion. His training methods, even then, was no compromises. He accepted no short cuts. It’s also why he became one of the fastest across 400m in Asia, if not the world. 

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Speaking about the world, all of us believed that he would win a medal at the Rome Olympics. You could see the pace he was setting in training. We were all there to cheer him on, we didn’t want to miss it because we thought we would all be witnessing history. We nearly did because he had started so well. But after the 200m mark, I think he made a slight error in judgment that resulted in him finishing fourth. Even then, that was a national record. He was also gracious enough to congratulate me when I was given the opportunity to lead the contingent at the 1964 Games. 

That was another thing that set him apart from the rest, he was always gracious with his time. Even though I was a baby of the team in 1960, he welcomed me. But sadly, we didn’t train or camp together. After both of us retired, I travelled to Chandigarh to meet him a few times. After he had caught the virus, I spoke to both his wife and him. It’s just extremely sad. But it’s also a great time to reminisce about one of the country’s greatest champions. 

As told to Swaroop Swaminathan GS Randhawa was part of the 1960 Games

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Cremated with full state honours
Milkha Singh was on Saturday cremated with full state honours here, marking the end of an era in which his pioneering accomplishments on the track galvanised a newly-independent India. Milkha, who was 91, was bid a tearful adieu in the presence of his family members and several dignitaries, including sports minister Kiren Rijiju. ‘The Flying Sikh’, as he was fondly called, died on Friday night due to Covid-19 related complications. His son and ace golfer Jeev Milkha Singh lit the funeral pyre.

A great motivator Anju Bobby George
He was a legend, a true legend. And we all know the struggles he had and where he came from and how he achieved all these things. Actually he came very late into athletics but still achieved his maximum. After the 2003 World Championship, he came down to Kerala to my house to congratulate me. And he was really happy and told my mother that you are really lucky to have a girl like this. He was a great motivator.

Milkha Singh during his heydays

A towering figure for us  Shiny Wilson
Milkha Singh ji’s demise is a great loss for sport. He was a towering figure for all of us and we all used to look up to him for inspiration. His tall deeds motivated us to excel. He had a knack of spotting talent and predicted that I will have a bright future. Milkha ji was the team manager when I was taking part in the World Junior Championships. He gave me a lot of advice that came in handy throughout my career. 

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HE WAS PHENOMENAL Adille Sumariwalla
Only one word can describe him. Phenomenal. I have met him on a few occasions and he has always lent a helping hand. One thing I think he did was put India on the world stage. We were an infant nation and his exploits at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games gave us an identity (he won gold over 440 yards). It was also the year I was born. 

I think that was his biggest contribution. Against England — our rulers till recently — Australia, Canada and others, the competition was fierce but his gold signalled a new dawn. It put us on the world athletics map.  We were a new-born country, nobody really cared much. We were under the shadow of the Empire. And he broke us from those shackles. I think that contribution is even bigger that the Rome Olympics.

Illustration: Amit Bandre

As told to Indraneel Das He is the AFI president

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Tributes on social media
We may not have seen you compete, but every time we ran fast as kids, we ran ‘like Milkha Singh’. And for me, that will always  be the legend you leave behind. Rest in peace, sir.
Sunil Chhetri, India football captain
A huge loss for the sport of athletics today. Rest well  #MilkhaSingh ji. 
Anju Bobby George, former India athlete
Rest in Peace, Milkha Singh ji. Your  demise has left a deep void in every Indian’s heart today, but  you shall keep inspiring several generations.
Sachin Tendulkar, Indian cricket great
We lost a gem. He will always remain as an inspiration for  every Indian, Neeraj Chopra, India javelin ace

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