India mourns as ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh dies

Afp, New Delhi

20 June, 2021 12:00 AM printer

India mourns as ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh dies

India on Saturday mourned the loss of track legend Milkha Singh, who overcame childhood tragedy to seek Olympic glory, after he died aged 91 following a long battle with Covid-19.

Singh, a four-time Asian Games gold medallist who was dubbed the 'Flying Sikh', passed away at a hospital in the north Indian city of Chandigarh late Friday.

His wife had also died from the virus earlier in the week. Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes for Singh, writing that India had "lost a colossal sportsperson, who captured the nation's imagination and had a special place in the hearts of countless Indians." Cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar said Singh's legacy would live on.

"Rest in Peace our very own 'Flying Sikh' Milkha Singh ji," he tweeted.

"Your demise has left a deep void in every Indian's heart today, but you shall keep inspiring several generations to come."

Singh, who first tested positive for the virus on May 20 according to Indian media, is survived by three daughters and one son, leading pro golfer Jeev Milkha Singh.

Singh was born in 1929 in Govindpura, in what is now Pakistan. He lost his family during the tumultuous partition of British-ruled India at independence in 1947, when it was divided into Pakistan and India, before going on to become one of the young country's first athletic heroes.

Singh won gold medals at the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games. However, he shot to fame at the 1960 Olympics in Rome when he finished fourth in the 400m after a photo-finish was required to decide the winner.

His time of 45.73 seconds was an Indian national record which stood for almost 40 years. But the devastated Singh never fulfilled his dream of winning an Olympic medal.

His rise to elite athlete made Singh a national hero and inspired a Bollywood film in 2013 called "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" (Run, Milkha, Run).

The film's lead actor Farhan Akhtar, who won top awards for his portrayal of the star athlete, paid tribute to Singh in an emotional message. "You represented an idea. You represented a dream," Akhtar wrote on social media.