Also known as ‘The Flying Sikh,’ Milkha Singh is a former track and field sprinter, who was the first gold medallist from independent India at the Commonwealth Games.
Milkha Singh was born on November 20, 1929 in a village near Muzaffargarh (in present-day Pakistan). He was orphaned during the Partition of India, when his family was killed in the violence that followed. Milkha escaped and moved to Delhi in 1947, where he lived with the family of his sister’s husband for a while. He was later persuaded by his brother to join the Indian Army—and successfully got through in 1951. While in the army, he was introduced to athletics, and was selected for special training in athletics after finishing sixth in a compulsory cross-country run for new recruits.
Singh later represented India in the 200m and 400m competitions of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. Due to lack of experience, he did not make much progress but a meeting with then champion Charles Jenkins inspired him to keep trying, and got him acquainted with training methods.
In 1958, Singh set records for the 200m and 400m in the National Games of India, held at Cuttack. He who won a gold medal at the 1958 Commonwealth Games, as well as golds in the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games. He represented India in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1958.
It was when he competed against Abdul Khaliq in Pakistan in 1960, that he earned the nickname ‘The Flying Sikh’—from a comment made by Pakistani General Ayub Khan
Milkha and his daughter, Sonia Sanwalka, co-wrote his autobiography, The Race of My Life (2013), which inspired the biopic, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013). In September 2017, Milkha Singh’s wax statue, which was created by sculptors of Madame Tussauds in London, was unveiled at Chandigarh.