Milkha Singh (born between 1929 and 1935), also known as The Flying Sikh, is an Indian former track and field sprinter who was introduced to the sport while serving in the Indian Army. He was the only Indian athlete to win an individual athletics gold medal at a Commonwealth Games until Krishna Poonia won the discus gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. He also won gold medals in the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games. He represented India in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. He was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, in recognition of his sporting achievements.
The race for which Singh is best remembered is his fourth-place finish in the 400 metres final at the 1960 Olympic Games, which he had entered as one of the favourites. Various records were broken in the race, which required a photo-finish and saw American Otis Davis being declared the winner by one-hundredth of a second over German Carl Kaufmann. Singh’s fourth-place time of 45.73 became the Indian national record and held for almost 40 years.
From beginnings that saw him orphaned and displaced during the Partition of India, Singh has become a sporting icon in his country. In 2008, journalist Rohit Brijnath described Singh as “the finest athlete India has ever produced”. In July 2012, The Independent said that “India’s most revered Olympian is a gallant loser” and noted the paucity of success at that time — 20 medals — achieved by Indian competitors in the Olympic Games despite the country having a population in excess of one billion.
Records and Honours
- 1st Gold medal blank.svg 1958 Asian Games – 200 m
- 1st Gold medal blank.svg 1958 Asian Games – 400 m
- 1st Gold medal blank.svg 1958 Commonwealth Games – 440 yards
- Padma Shri – 1959
- 1st Gold medal blank.svg 1962 Asian Games – 400 m
- 1st Gold medal blank.svg 1962 Asian Games – 4 x 400 m relay
- 2nd Silver medal blank.svg 1964 Calcutta National Games – 400 m
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