'I met him a few times after breaking his national record. He would always ask what I was doing. He would advise me to work harder and maintain self-discipline.'
Inspired by Milkha Singh, he broke the very record that the iconic sprinter had against his name for 38 years and as Paramjit Singh mourned his idol's demise, he said he would forever cherish the time spent in awe of and with the "pioneering legend".
Paramjit broke Milkha's 400m national record in 1998, 38 years after the Milkha set it in the Rome Olympics for a fourth-place finish. The 91-year-old Milkha, who died at a Chandigarh hospital on Friday due to post-COVID complications, ran that memorable race in 45.6 seconds.
"Milkha Singh Ji was so kind and generous that I was invited for a dinner at his place in Chandigarh after I broke his national record. He told me I should work harder to achieve success at the global level. He himself was a man of self-discipline and hard work," Paramjit told PTI on Saturday.
"That was the first time I met him in person and I was in awe of him. I was with my coach. Milkha Singh Ji said he wants to see an Indian win an Olympic medal before he dies," said the 49-year-old who broke the national record during the National Championships in Kolkata.
Milkha was officially hand-timed at 45.6 seconds during his fourth-place finish in the Olympics, though an unofficial electronic timer at the Games clocked him at 45.73 seconds.
Years later, electronic timers were installed at all international events and 0.14 seconds were added to all hand timings to compare with electronic timings.
Milkha's hand-timed 45.6 was converted to 45.74 seconds in electronic timing, which Paramjit bettered by running 45.70 seconds in 1998.
Milkha had refused to accept his (electronic) timing of 45.74 seconds and had famously declared in 1991 that nobody could break the record set by him.
The current 400m national record is in the name of Muhammed Anas Yahiya with a timing of 45.21 seconds.
Paramjit, who was a part of the silver medal-winning 4x400m relay quartet in the 1998 Asian Games and also represented the country in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, said Milkha always encouraged him to work hard.
"I met him a few times after breaking his national record. He would always ask what I was doing. He would advise me to work harder and maintain self-discipline," Singh recalled.
"It is a huge loss for the country that Milkha Singh Ji is no more. He was the pioneering legend of Indian athletics."
Asked about Milkha's promise to give Rs 2 lakh to the athlete who broke his national record, Paramjit said, "He had said that but I have no grudge that I did not get it."
"I am happy that I had broken his record. He was my role model when I started running. I am here because of him.
"I was playing volleyball earlier. Then I shifted to 400m race and my coach used to tell me that I have the potential to break Milkha Singh's national record. So, Milkha Singh Ji has been my inspiration."