Legendary Indian sprinter Milkha Singh, who passed away on Friday due to post-Covid complications, had a special connection with the iconic Barabati Stadium of Odisha.
The ace athlete known as 'Flying Sikh' had won the gold medal in the 400m event of the National Athletics Meet organised at the stadium in Cuttack way back in 1957. In the process, Milkha had also shattered the Asian record.
"I just couldn't believe the feat and spent a sleepless night," Milkha once reminisced while addressing an esteemed gathering as the chief guest to present the honours during the 'Ekalabya Award' function organised by IMPaCT (Indian Metals Public Charitable Trust), the charitable wing of IMFA in Bhubaneswar in 2016.
The win which was the first of numerous glories that Milkha would eventually script in his career in international athletics was a big cause of cheer for the whole country then. In his Ekalabya Award speech, Milkha accepted that even though, he had participated in the Melbourne Olympics a year before in 1956 it is his feat at the Barabati Ground which ushered the start of the glorious chapters in his brilliant career.
"I was doubtful that the track at the Barabati Stadium may be shorter. I calculated the track in the stadium with a measurement tape in the morning and found it to be correct. It was a great solace for me," a nostalgic Milkha had said during his speech.
Shedding more light on the Barabati win in Milkha's career, International Athletics Technical Officer Prabodh Mohanty said, "He had participated in both 200m and 400m events at the Barabati Stadium. His national record remained intact for 40 years and was later surpassed by Paramjeet Singh."
Milkha then won a gold medal in the 400m event at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games with a timing of 46.6 seconds, the achievement which made him the first gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games from independent India.
The record-breaking win sparked countrywide celebrations with the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also declaring a national holiday in his honour.
At the 1962 Asian Games, held in Jakarta, Singh won gold in the 400m and in the 4 x 400m relay events. He had competed in Melbourne (1956), Rome (1960) and Tokyo (1964) Olympics. Though he was considered a medal favourite in Rome, he missed the bronze by a whisker.
Singh was persuaded by Nehru to set aside his memories of the Partition era to race successfully in 1960 against Abdul Khaliq in Pakistan, where a post-race comment by the then General Ayub Khan led to him acquiring the nickname of 'The Flying Sikh'.
Singh's legacy, an inspiration to many a generation of athletes in India remains forever etched in the golden history of country's sportsmanship. Sadly, the legendary figure passed away on Friday outpouring a flood of mourning across the nation. Ace sprinters from Odisha also came out to express condolences over his demise.
"I still can't believe that Milkha Singh is no more. We used to seek his blessings ahead of any mega competition. He will remain as an ideal sprinter for Indian athletes for all time to come," said former Odia sprinter and Olympian Rachita Mistry.
"Milkha is my ideal. He had struggled a lot to be successful in sports. I take a lot of inspiration from him," said ace sprinter Dutee Chand.
It is worth mentioning that Milkha had lost his wife Nirmal Kaur before six days. Kaur, who was the former captain of the Indian women's volleyball team, succumbed to Covid-19.