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Thursday, August 05, 2021

When Milkha’s coach Dr Howard came calling to Chandigarh

It was in 1945 that Dr Howard arrived in India from the United States as a part of the United Mathadeus Church Mission Programme and was later associated with the Indian athletics team as head coach from 1948 to 1960 before going back to the United States in 1978.

Written by Nitin Sharma | Chandigarh |
June 20, 2021 9:25:48 am
During Dr Howard’s visit to Chandigarh. (File)

When Flying Sikh Milkha Singh became the first-ever Indian athlete to win a gold medal in the then British Empire and Commonwealth Games at Cardiff in 1958, Singh had edged out South African Malcolm Spence to create history. While Singh would train under coaches like Hawaldar Gurdev Singh, Randhir Singh and J S Saini in the national and Army training camps, it was Dr Arthur W Howard’s presence and strategy which helped Singh win the historic gold medal. The 96-year-old Amrican coach, who died in 2011, had visited Singh in October 2007, and Singh had spoken about the foreign coach tactics in the final race at Cardiff.

“In the national camps, Dr Howard would make sure that he got to spend time training me along with other coaches. At Cardiff, I remember how he spent the whole night sitting beside my cot and telling me, ‘Milkha, tum Spence ko shuru main marta’. What he meant was that Spence would run the first 350m of the 400m race at a normal pace and would run the last 50m with a greater push. Dr Howard told me to start the race with some speed and make Spence catch me. The tactics worked for me and the rest is history,” Singh had told The Indian Express earlier.

It was in 1945 that Dr Howard arrived in India from the United States as a part of the United Mathadeus Church Mission Programme and was later associated with the Indian athletics team as head coach from 1948 to 1960 before going back to the United States in 1978. Apart from coaching the national teams, Howard was also associated with the setting up of the National Institute of Sports (NIS) at Patiala as deputy director from 1960 to 1962 and also trained multiple Indian athletes. It was only by chance that Howard was there at Cardiff in 1958 as he was on his way to his home in the United States of America for vacation. In 1960 Rome Olympics, where Milkha lost the bronze medal to a photo-finish with Spence, Howard was not present as coaches did not travel with the team at that time.

“People still remember Milkha’s performance at the Rome Olympics. What they don’t know perhaps is Milkha’s victory over the same Mel Spencer in the final of 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games. During that time, national coaches did not travel with the team. It was only by chance that I was there at Cardiff. Milkha still believes that if I was there with him at the Rome Olympics, he would have won,” Howard had told The Indian Express in 2007 during his Chandigarh visit.

Howard, who first saw Milkha during one of the national camps, would form a life-long association with Singh before his death. “When I first saw Milkha, I thought I knew this guy had it in him to succeed at the international level. One thing I noticed at that time was the amount of practice he would put in,” Howard had said.

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