Milkha Singh was an Indian track and field sprinter who was introduced to the sport while serving in the Indian Army. He is the only athlete to win gold in 400 metres at the Asian Games and won gold medals in the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games also. He is also the only athlete to win gold in 400 metres at the Commonwealth Games. In the 1956 Summer Olympics, he represented India in Melbourne. He also represented India in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Milkha Singh was awarded the Padma Shri, in recognition of his sporting achievements.
- Full Name: Milkha Singh
- Born: 20 November 1929, Govindpura, Punjab, British India, (present-day Punjab, Pakistan)
- Nickname: The Flying Sikh
- Died: 18 June 2021 (aged 91), Chandigarh, India
- Spouse: Nirmal Sain (m. 1963; died 2021)
- Nationality: Indian
- Occupation: Athlete, Employer (Retired; formerly of the Indian Army and Government of Punjab, India)
- Military career: Allegiance India (branch; Indian Army)
- Years of Service: 1951–1964
- Rank: Captain of the Indian Army. SVG Honorary Captain
- Awards: Padma Shri riband Padma Shri
- Sport: Track and field
- Event: Sprinting
Milkha Singh was born on 20 November 1929, in Govindpura (a village 10 kilometres from Muzaffargarh city in Punjab Province), in British India (now Muzaffargarh District, Pakistan). He was born in a Rathore Rajput Sikh family. He was one of 15 siblings, eight of whom died before the Partition of India. He was orphaned during the Partition when his parents, were killed in the violence that ensued between the villagers and Islamic extremists who tried to convert them. He witnessed these killings.
In 1947, Milkha moved to Delhi, India, and he lived for a short time with the family of his married sister Ishvar. One time he was briefly imprisoned at Tihar jail for travelling on a train without a ticket. His sister, Ishvar, sold some jewellery to obtain his release. He spent some time at a refugee camp in Purana Qila, and at a resettlement colony in Shahdara, both were located in Delhi.
After leaving his sister's family, Milkha was considered to becoming a dacoit but was instead persuaded by his brothers, Malkhan, to attempt recruitment to the Indian Army and he successfully gained entrance on his fourth attempt, in 1951. He was stationed at the Electrical Mechanical Engineering Centre, in Secunderabad and was introduced to athletics. He had run the 10 km distance to and from school as a child. After finishing sixth in a compulsory cross-in athletics country run for new recruits, he was selected by the army for special training in athletics. Milkha once said that "I came from a remote village, I didn't know what running was, or the Olympics".
Milkha was promoted to 'Junior commissioned officer' from the rank of 'sepoy', in recognition of his successes in the 1958 Asian Games. After his success in sports, he subsequently became Director of Sports in the Punjab Ministry of Education and was retired in 1998.
He turned down an offer of the Arjuna Award from the Indian government, in 2001, arguing that it was intended to recognise young sportspeople and not those such as him. He said that "I have been clubbed with sportspersons who are nowhere near the level that I had achieved" and that the award had become devalued. In his speech about his experience, at a college in Goa, in 2014, he stated that "The awards nowadays are distributed like 'prasad' in a temple. Why should one be honoured when he or she has not achieved the benchmark for the award? I rejected the Arjuna I was offered after I received the Padma Shri. It was like being offered an SSC [secondary school] certificate after securing a Master's degree".
Milkha Singh was awarded the Padma Shri (India's fourth-highest civilian award), in 1959, in recognition of his sporting achievements.
In his athletic life, Milkha won many medals through his fantastic sprint. Some main medals won by him are:
- Gold in Asian Games 200 m, 1958
- Gold in Asian Games 400 m, 1958
- Gold in Commonwealth Games 440 yards, 1958
- Gold in Asian Games 400 m, 1962
- Gold in Asian Games 4X400 m relay, 1962
- Gold in Cuttack National Games 200 m, 1958
- Gold in Cuttack National Games 400 m, 1958
- Silver in Calcutta National Games 400 m,1964
Autobiography and Charitable Work
Milkha Singh founded the 'Milkha Singh Charitable Trust' in 2003 with the aim of assisting poor and needy sportspeople. Singh wrote his autobiography, titled 'The Race of My Life' with his daughter, Sonia Sanwalka. It was published in 2013. The book inspired the biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, based on Singh's life. Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra directed this film. Farhan Akhtar is in the title role, with Sonam Kapoor, Meesha Shafi and Divya Dutta in female lead roles. The film made over ₹100 crores and was widely acclaimed in India. This film won awards including the National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment at the National Film Awards and 5 awards at the International Indian Film Academy Awards in 2014. Milkha sold the movie rights for one rupee only, but inserted a clause stating that a share of the profits would be given to the 'Milkha Singh Charitable Trust'.
Milkha Singh's wax statue created by sculptors of Madame Tussauds in London was unveiled at Chandigarh in September 2017. It depicts him in running posture during his victorious run at the 1958 Commonwealth Games. The statue is placed at Madame Tussauds museum in New Delhi, India. After winning India's first track and field gold medal at the 2020 Olympics, athlete Neeraj Chopra dedicated his victory to Milkha Singh.
Milka met Nirmal Saini, who was a former captain of the Indian women's volleyball team in Ceylon in 1955 and they married in 1962. The couple had three daughters including Sonia Sanwalka and a son, the golfer Jeev Milkha Singh. In 1999, Milkha and Nirmal adopted the seven-year-old son of Havildar Bikram Singh, who had died in the Battle of Tiger Hill.
Later life and Death
All Medals won by Milkha Singh, have been donated to the nation and they were displayed at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi. Later on, all these medals have been moved to a sports museum in Patiala, and a pair of running shoes that he wore in Rome are also displayed in the same museum. He also donated the Adidas shoes in 2012, which he had worn in 1960, 400m final to be sold in a charity auction organised by actor Rahul Bose.
Nirmal Saini, Singh's wife died on 13 June 2021, due to complications caused by COVID-19. On 24 May 2021, Milkha was admitted to the intensive care unit at Fortis Hospital in Mohali with pneumonia caused by the COVID-19 virus. In starting, his condition was, described as stable, but he died on 18 June 2021 at 11:30 pm in Chandigarh. Singh was laid on his funeral pyre with a photo of his wife in his hands.
"You can achieve anything in life. It just depends on how desperate you are to achieve it."
~ Milkha Singh