As far as sporting legends in India go, the great Milkha Singh is right up there.
The Flying Sikh was a source of inspiration for the country in track & field during an illustrious career, with his exploits in international meets in his favourite 200m and 400m sprints. He was one of the first Indian track & field athletes to have been considered among the best in the world at their peak.
He set the national record in the 400m at the Rome Olympics and it stood for almost 40 years. He won four Asian Games gold medals and was the only Indian athlete to win an individual athletics gold medal at a Commonwealth Games until Krishna Poonia won the discus throw at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Long past his retirement, even now, Milkha Singh continues to serve as a source of inspiration for athletes across India.
However, one race from his career that still serves fresh in Milkha’s memory would be the 400m final at the Rome Olympics. Milkha was touted as the favourite to win the event, going into the final. He got off to a scorching start, leading the race at the halfway point. But he could not sustain his start and had to settle for the fourth spot.
The disappointment of 1960 is still fresh in his mind and the legend wants to see a young Indian athlete grabbing a gold medal in athletics at Olympics before he takes his last breath.
"Everyone should have a goal to become something in life. In badminton, (Pullela) Gopichand has really done well. He has produced world class badminton players. Every coach should look up to him. But athletics is the main event in the Olympics. We have produced 7-8 good athletes but couldn't win a medal. Milkha Singh, PT Usha (800m), Anju Bobby George (Long Jump), Sriram Singh (800m), Gurbachan Singh Randhawa (110m hurdles) etc," he said during a dialogue with Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju as part of the Fit India event.
"These five athletes reached the final but couldn't grab the medal. It is my last wish (that India win an athletics medal). Before the Rome Olympics, I ran 80 international races, and saw the tri-colour being raised and the national anthem being sung. I had tears of joy. I want to say there is talent in athletics in India. In Rome 1960, people believed that if someone would win 400m then it would be Milkha Singh (but it did not happen).
It is my last wish that I want to see a youngster win a gold medal in athletics at the Olympics. - Milkha Singh
Rijiju, who was hosting the Fit India dialogue along with a panel of celebrated athletes such as Milkha, Anil Kapoor, Bhaichung Bhutia, Mithali Raj and Pullela Gopichand, expects Indians to take fitness seriously and strive to be a sporting nation.
"I wish everyone to be a part of the Fit India movement," he said.
"I expect that everyone is giving at least half an hour for fitness and for health everyone should start giving time. This is a new India and through fitness, we are trying to mould a country where we can say the new India is a fit India," he added.