Life History

Milkha Singh: The Athlete Who Inspired a Nation

Milkha Singh Life History Essay 

Milkha Singh: Milkha Singh was born in the Western Punjab of undivided India on October 8, 1935. He lost his parents in the partition of India and the chaos that ensued. In 1947, he reached India from Pakistan in the cross border trains carrying refugees. Within a decade of his second life’, he was making a name for himself on the international athletics circuit. Two Asian Games, three Olympics and two Commonwealth Games, he left his mark far and wide.

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In the 1958 Asiad at Tokyo, Milkha not only won his pet event, the 400 meters, he also beat the favorite in the 200 meters, the Pakistani Abdul Khaliq and was the toast of Asian sporting circles.


The same year at the Commonwealth Games (then known as the Empire Games), he won his favorite event in 46.6 seconds, beating the South African Malcolm Spence, a name that would come back to haunt him two years later. He was speaking perfectly for the Rome Olympics as his name spread far and wide, making him one of the most famous Indians of his time.

He entered Rome as one of the favorites for a medal, after an outstanding season on the tracks of Europe. Facing him was the greatest array of quarter-milers ever assembled.

Milkha drew the fifth lane in the final after the heats had seen the Olympic record equalled by the American Otis Davis. The Indian star had beaten all the top quarter-milers in the world in the run up to Rome, except Davis.

The experts predicted at least a silver medal for Milkha who would later admit that even he had gold on his mind; such was his form at the time. But unluckily he lost. Milkha Singh went out of India and took part in several competitions in order to divert his mind from the defeat.

Milkha Singh: The Final Journey of the Flying Sikh

He returned to India wondering how he would face his supporters. He need not have worried. Back home, he was received as a hero. Though his mistake rankled for years, gradually Milkha regained his confidence and composure. He was soon back to his winning ways, claiming gold in the 400 meters in the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games.

Milkha Singh can be described as one of the most extraordinary athletes of his times. He was a genius and a genius is never trained. Without any formal training, without any financial reward and without any emotional support, he took on the greatest athletes of his time and proved himself as good if not better.

Milkha’s national records (200 and 400 meters) have been broken after many decades. But nothing can diminish his towering stature. At present, Milkha Singh is the Additional Director of Sports and Youth Programme, Education Department. Married to former international player, Nirmal, he has one son and three daughters. His son, Chiranjeev Milkha Singh, is a top golfer and represented India in the Beijing Asian Games in 1990.

He was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri by the then President of India in 1958, when he won the gold medal in the British and Commonwealth Games.

Milkha Singh donated all of his medals and trophies, including the world-record-breaking running shoes, blazers, and uniforms, to the National Sports Museum at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.

Singh’s autobiography, The Race of My Life, was co-written by him and his daughter, Sonia Sanwalka. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a 2013 biographical film about Singh’s life, was inspired by the book.

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