Updated: June 19, 2021 1:47:52 pm
Thirty days after he contracted the Covid-19 virus and five days after wife Nirmal passed away, Flying Sikh Milkha Singh breathed his last at PGIMER on Friday evening. The 1958 Commonwealth Games champion, four-time Asian Games champion who captured the country’s imagination with his feats at the 1960 Rome Olympics was admitted to a private Mohali hospital on May 24. The 91-year-old had been discharged on May 30 before being taken to the Covid ward in the Nehru Hospital Extension at PGIMER on June 3 due to dipping oxygen levels.
The former 400m athlete had tested negative for Covid-19 earlier this week and was shifted from the Covid ICU to the medical ICU at PGIMER before his condition took a turn for the worse.
His family in a statement to the media said: “It is with extreme sadness that we would like to inform you that Milkha Singh Ji passed away. He fought hard but God has his ways and it was perhaps true love and companionship that both our mother Nirmal ji and now Dad have passed away in a matter of 5 days.”
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. I want people to be passionate about fitness. Whether it is working people or senior citizens, they need tphysical exercise daily. I am glad that I can motivate people at this age too for fitness,” Singh had told The Indian Express that day.
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