Chandigarh, June 18 (IANS) Legendary Indian athlete Milkha Singh, popularly known as 'Flying Sikh, passed away in a local hospital at 11.30 p.m. on Friday at the age of 91, said a statement from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, where he was being treated for Covid-related complications.
His love with athletics began after he enrolled himself with the EME Corps of the Indian Army.
6 days ago, on June 13, Milkha's wife Nirmal had passed away. A former India volleyball captain, she was 85, and she too was affected by Covid and related complications.
"Legendary Indian Sprinter Shri Milkha Singh ji was admitted in the ICU of Covid Hospital of PGIMER on 3rd June 2021 and was treated for Covid there till 13th June when after putting up a valiant battle with Covid, Milkha Singh Ji tested negative," said Prof Ashok Kumar, official spokesperson, PGIMER, in a media statement after Milkha Singh passed away.
"However, due to post-Covid complications, he was shifted out of Covid Hospital to medical ICU. But despite best of the efforts by the medical team, Milkha Singh ji could not be retrieved from his critical condition and after a brave fight, he left for his heavenly abode at 11.30 p.m. on 18th June 2021, here at PGIMER," the statement said.
His daughter, Mona Milkha Singh, who is also a doctor, had been monitoring his health.
"He fought hard but God has his ways and it was perhaps true love and companionship that both our mother Nirmal ji and now dad have passed away in a matter of five days," the family statement read. "We are deeply indebted to the doctors at PGI for their valiant efforts and the love and prayers we received from across the world and from yourselves. We Thank You," said the family.
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The 91-year-old had contracted the virus last month. His wife, Nirmal Milkha Singh, also passed away due to the virus on June 13.
Prime Minister Modi expressed his sadness in a Twitter post on Singh's demise.
I had spoken to Shri Milkha Singh Ji just a few days ago. Little did I know that it would be our last conversation. Several budding athletes will derive strength from his life journey. My condolences to his family and many admirers all over the world.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 18, 2021
Describing the death of legendary athlete Milkha Singh with post-Covid complications, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said it was the end of an era and India and Punjab "are poorer".
Upset and saddened to hear of Milkha Singh Ji’s demise. It marks the end of an era and India & Punjab are poorer today. My condolences to the bereaved family & millions of fans. The legend of the Flying Sikh will reverberate for generations to come. Rest in peace Sir! pic.twitter.com/7yK8EOHUnS— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) June 18, 2021
His Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar said that the country has lost a star. "Milkha Singh has left us but he will always inspire every Indian to shine for the country," Khattar added.
भारत ने एक सितारा खो दिया है। मिल्खा सिंह जी हमें छोड़ गए हैं, लेकिन वे हर भारतीय को देश के लिए चमकने के लिए सदैव प्रेरित करते रहेंगे।— Manohar Lal (@mlkhattar) June 18, 2021
'फ्लाइंग सिख' हमेशा भारतवासियों के दिलों में जीवित रहेंगे।
ईश्वर से पुण्यात्मा की शांति की प्रार्थना करता हूँ।
।।विनम्र श्रद्धांजलि।। pic.twitter.com/4Skhx28NC5
Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra shared her thoughts over the death of the sprinter.
Warm and welcoming, you made our first meeting so so special. I have been inspired by your excellence, touched by your humility, influenced by your contribution to our country. Om Shanti #Milkha ji. Sending love and prayers to the family. #MilkhaSingh— PRIYANKA (@priyankachopra) June 18, 2021
A glimpse into the stupendous athletics career of legendary Milkha Singh is mind boggling. His accomplishments include a 400 metres Indian national record standing of 38 years and the 400m Asian record for 26 years. In 1960 in Rome, he came closest to winning an individual Olympic Games medal as an Indian, in 400m, eventually finishing fourth in a photo finish.
Milkha was one of the favourites to win the 400m gold in Rome. It was probably natural, too, as going into the Olympics, he is said to have won 77 out of 80 races, including the 1958 Commonwealth Games gold in 440 yards.
But one shortcoming probably cost Milkha an Olympic medal. He had a habit of looking at his opponents over his shoulder while running races, and when he did the same in Rome it was decisive, though he had led the race until 200m. Later he admitted that he had paid a heavy price for his habit.
Interestingly, Milkha broke the existing world record of 45.9 sec in Rome, and so the three who finished ahead of him. He finished fourth with a time of 45.6 seconds, as per a hand-held device, while an unofficial electronic timer at the games clocked him at 45.73 sec. This has been a point of contention, though.
Whatever the reality, Milkha emerged from Rome as the ‘Flying Sikh'. A legend was born.
In 1998, Paramjeet Singh broke Milkha's Indian record at a national competition in Kolkata. But Milkha was not satisfied with the procedure of recording athletes' timings in Kolkata. Paramjeet clocked 45.70 secs on a synthetic track while Singh had run on a cinder track in Rome.
Much before Paramjeet broke Milkha's record, the legend had offered to give a Rs 2 lakh prize to anyone who broke his 400m record. But when Paramjeet did that, Milkha gave only Rs 1 lakh to him. Milkha later explained that the Rs 2 lakh prize was for breaking the record overseas while Paramjeet said that the legend hadn't clarified that beforehand. That created some friction between the two.
Currently, Muhammed Anas of Kerala holds the 400m national record with a time of 45.24 seconds.
Until Rome 1960, no Indian had come so close to winning an individual Olympic medal; in hockey, though, India had been a dominant force.
Later, in 1984, P.T. Usha missed a bronze by a whisker in 400m hurdles at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. She clocked 55.42 seconds, and missed the bronze by a mere 0.01 sec.
Milkha's 400m Asian record of 45.63 seconds stood for 26 years, before being broken by Susumu Takona of Japan.
That prize money episode aside, no one can take anything away from Milkha's achievements in track and field – and the example he set for athletes that followed him. He won four gold medals at the Asian Games – two in 400m (1958 and 1962), one in 200m (1958), and one in 4x100m relay (1962).
Milkha was born in Layalpur, in the undivided India, and now in Pakistan. His love for athletics began after he enrolled himself with the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) of the Indian Army in Delhi.
His talent blossomed while being with the Army. Fortunately for him, his officers encouraged him, and that would have played a role in him winning the 200m and 400m races at a Services Athletics Meet in 1955.
Milkha practiced on his own while with the Army and clinched gold medals in both 200m and 400m at the 1956 National Games in Patiala, and two years later at the Cuttack Nationals, setting national records in both races.
His sporting achievements won him kudos from the Army, and the Indian government awarded him the Padma Shri in 1959. The same year, he was awarded the prestigious Helms Award.
Milkha took premature retirement from the Army and took up the post of Deputy Director of Sports with the Punjab government.
Decades later, a Bollywood film was made on Milkha Singh, starring Farhan Akhtar.
Actor Farhan Akhtar expressed his shock over the passing away of the sportsman.
The couple is survived by a son, ace golfer Jeev Milkha Singh, and three daughters. Jeev was the first Indian to break into the top 50 of the official world golf rankings in 2007.
Darpan Magazine offers their condolances to his family. May he rest in peace.