At five in the evening on Saturday, Indian track and field bid a final adieu to its first post-independence superstar.
Padma Shri Milkha Singh succumbed to COVID — after battling it for a month and five days after losing his wife Nirmal Kaur — in Chandigarh on Friday. Befitting his stature, he was accorded a State funeral on Saturday with the Punjab government announcing a day of mourning in his honour.
They had been married for 59 years and the family, led by golfer Jeev Milkha Singh, made sure they weren’t separated in death, cremating the ‘Flying Sikh’ at the same place and with a photo of his wife in his hands on the final journey.
Besides Jeev, Milkha is survived by three daughters — Mona Singh, Aleeza Grover and Sonia Sanwalka.
The 91-year-old Milkha had initially been hospitalised on May 24 after testing positive for COVID-19 on May 20.
He was discharged after stabilising on May 30 before being re-admitted to PGIMER on June 3 with dipping Oxygen levels.
The official photo finish of the 400m final at the Rome Olympics on September 6, 1960. It shows Otis Davis of the U.S. (nearer, right) turning his head as Carl Kaufmann of Germany lunges at the tape with his head. This trick, which gave Lee Calhoun of the U.S. the high hurdles title, failed to work for Kaufmann. The judges awarded the race to Davis but gave both athletes the world record smashing time of 44.9s. Malcolm Spence of South Africa was third in 45.5s and India’s Milkha Singh fourth in 45.6s. Photo: The Hindu Photo Archives
The 1958 Commonwealth Games champion and 1960 Rome Olympian was moved out of the COVID ICU after testing negative on Thursday but his condition worsened early on Friday before finally breathing his last at 11.30 p.m.
Born in Gobindpura in present day Pakistan, Milkha remained the lone Indian athletics winner at the CWG for more than 50 years after Cardiff before discus thrower Krishna Poonia emulated the feat in the 2010 edition.
While his four Asian Games golds — 200m and 400m in 1958 and 400m and 4x400m relay in 1962 — put him firmly in the pantheon of legends, ironically his biggest and most memorable moment was also the most tragic when he finished fourth at the 1960 Rome Olympics in a photo-finish with a then National record of 45.6 seconds.