Hyderabad: Milkha Singh made waves at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, but his baby steps as a sprinter were taken here in Secunderabad, where he was recruited in the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME) of the Army back in 1952.
The ’Flying Sikh’ died of Covid complications late on Saturday night. He was 91.
He trained in and around the EME Centre area, building his strength and stamina by taking up many an uphill task — he would run up the Ammuguda hill carrying a stone-filled bag and also run alongside a train, which ran on the then metre gauge track between Bolaram and Ammuguda. “The driver of a particular train used to encourage and egg me on. It was kind of a motivation and I could run for a longer distance,” Milkha recalled in interviews later.
He has always credited the Army, EME and Secunderabad Cantonment for his sporting success. “Had I not joined the Army I would not have worked so hard,” Milkha said.
Fittingly, a colony in the EME Centre is named after him, as also the Stadium inside the EME Centre where he trained. While inaugurating the Milkha Singh Stadium in 2014, the legend had got emotional, kissed the turf and said it was like a gurudwara to him.
Secunderabad, where Milkha lived from 1952 to 1960 and prepared for the 1960 Olympics at which he missed the 400 metres bronze medal by a whisker, was always special to him. “Whenever he came across athletes from Secunderabad/ Hyderabad, he would develop an instant affinity. ‘Mai Secunderabad ka rice khaney ke baad running start kiya’ (I have started running after eating rice in Secunderabad) he once told me in jest. He would also talk about his many memories here,” Prabhakara Rao Mulagala, veteran long-distance runner from the city, told this newspaper.
“We should also remember Milkha used to run on cinder tracks, not on the present synthetic ones that give athletes the advantage of up to a second. He was the first to run the 400m under 46 seconds, at a meet in Oslo (Norway) a fortnight or so before the Rome Olympics, where he was unfortunate to finish fourth, 0.1 second behind Malcolm Spence of South Africa. Later, South Africa was banned from sport for 36 years because of apartheid... that bronze could’ve belonged to Milkha, who competed against the world’s best,” added Prabhakara, who has won 300-plus gold medals at national and international races, and at 69 still competes in races.