Milkha Singh, the Flying Sikh, breathed his last in Chandigarh on Friday night. The 91-year-old had contracted Covid-19 a month back and lost his wife Nirmal Kaur to the virus earlier this week.
The 1958 Commonwealth Games champion and 1960 Rome Olympian had tested positive for the virus on May 20 and was admitted to a private hospital in Mohali on May 24. Singh had been discharged on May 30 before he was admitted to the Covid ward at the Nehru Hospital Extension at PGIMER on June 3 due to dipping oxygen levels. The former Indian athlete had tested negative on Thursday earlier this week and was shifted to the medical ICU.
“Dad just passed away,” Singh’s son Jeev Milkha Singh told The Indian Express.
I had spoken to Shri Milkha Singh Ji just a few days ago. Little did I know that it would be our last conversation. Several budding athletes will derive strength from his life journey. My condolences to his family and many admirers all over the world.
Singh, born in Gobindpura – in present day Pakistan – was the first Indian track and field athlete to win gold in the then British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in 1958. He remained the only one for more than 50 years before discus thrower Krishna Poonia won gold at the 2010 CWG in Delhi. Singh had beaten Malcolm Spence of South Africa with a timing of 46.6 seconds in the Scottish city.
While he had also won four Asian Games gold medals – 200m and 400m in 1958, and 400m and 4x400m relay in 1962 – Singh’s most memorable moment came at the 1960 Rome Olympics where he finished fourth in the 400m final in a photo-finish. Singh’s then national record timing of 45.6 seconds, set in Rome, was broken by Paramjeet Singh in 1998.
Singh is survived by three daughters – Mona Singh, Aleeza Grover and Sonia Sanwalka as well as son Jeev Milkha Singh. Golfer Jeev, a 14-time international winner, is a Padma Shri awardee like his father and had been coordinating with the medical staff at PGIMER along with elder sister Dr Mona Singh since last month.
In 2019, Singh had celebrated his 90th birthday with family members at his Sector 8 residence in Chandigarh. “It’s a special day for me and the whole family but celebrations can wait. The reason I am here to see this day is my fitness regime and that’s what I follow at the start of the day. It’s like a prayer for an athlete like me and I believe that as long as a person is fit, he remains active. When I am not playing golf, I go for a jog for more than two kms at Sukhna Lake. I want people to be passionate about fitness. Whether it is working people or senior citizens, they need to take 10 minutes of physical exercise daily at home or a park and I am glad that I can motivate people at this age too for fitness,” Singh had told The Indian Express that day.