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The legend of Milkha Singh

Last updated on: July 11, 2013 11:58 IST

The legend of Milkha Singh

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Bhaag Milkha Bhaag releases on Friday. Norma Godinho presents a lowdown on the central character of the biopic.

For a man considered the greatest Indian athlete, Milkha Singh is a story like no other.

From battling emotional crisis -- his parents died in the riots that took place during Partition -- to being the only Indian to win an individual athletics gold till the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the man’s life is exemplary.

Yet, very little if known about the the 'Flying Sikh'. And, in that endeavour, the biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag will release this Friday. 

Directed by Rakyesh Om Prakash Mehra, Farhan Akhtar portrays Milkha’s character.


Image: Milkha Singh
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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Between 1958 and 1960 Milkha saw the heights of glory

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Milkha came from a poor family and did not have the resources for high-end training. Recruited in the army after three rejections, he did not even have money to buy shoes. He ran the 1960 Rome Olympics barefoot and placed fourth in the final after a photo-finish.

He never let the lack of modern training methods affect his focus. Intensive sand running and mountain training was his routine. He would run against the speed of a metre gauge train. The training was so intense that very often he vomitted blood or collapsed in exhaustion.

But winning 77 out of 80 races would not have happened any other way.

It was between 1958 and 1960 that Milkha attained the heights of glory. From setting a new record in the 200 and 400 metres at the Cuttack National Games, he won two gold medals at the Asian Games in Tokyo and went on to win gold at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff. He was awarded the Helms trophy for being the best athlete in 1959.


Image: Milkha Singh attends the gala screening of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag at The Mayfair Hotel in London
Photographs: Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images

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Milkha was honoured with the Padma Shri in 1958

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His feats are well-documented the world over.

In 1962 he received an invitation from Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan to compete against the then Tokyo Asiad champion, Abdul Khaliq.

Milkha recently revealed on a television program that he had initially turned down that offer but changed his mind on the insistence of former India Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He did India proud in the land of the arch-rival, beating Khaliq and returning home with the tag of 'Flying Sikh', conferred by Ayub Khan.

Recognising his efforts, he was duly honoured with the Padma Shri in 1958. He, however, refused to accept the Arjuna award in 2001, saying it came 40 years too late.

With his biography due in the next two months, Milkha, who lives with wife Nirmal Kaur in Chandigarh’s upscale sector 8, will be keen to know people’s reviews on Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.


Image: Milkha Singh attends the gala screening of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag at The Mayfair Hotel in London
Photographs: Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images

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