Legendary sprinter Milkha Singh who infamously lost the Rome Olympics says tapping into rural talent can lead the country to excellence in athletics.
"If you look at history of athletics in the country almost all champions have hailed from the villages. Top Asian champions as well as the ones who have reached the Olympics have a rural background. Athletics talent is more prominent in the villages than in the urban areas because the main factor determining the difference is hard work which is an integral part of an athlete's training,"Singh told PTI in an interview.
Hailed as the 'Flying Sikh' for his legendary prowess on the track field, Singh says he used to run barefoot daily on hot sand to school, which was situated 20 kms from his house.
"Today you cannot expect this from kids from the urban areas. I am not saying urban kids can't do it but hard work has to be done by them," says Singh whose life story has been published recently in a new book.
India owes its first ever gold in athletics at the Commonwealth Games to Milkha Singh who still regrets his loss at the 400-metre event at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Singh feels that early identification of talented individuals is also important for India's athletic teams to shine.
"The education, food, training and competitions of the athletes should be completely taken care of. These kids should be tested every 15 days for their performance and issues should be resolved if they are not improving performance. Only after such levels of hard work can the country's athletic standards improve," says Singh.
Not much of a movie buff himself Singh says he had given a few pointers to train for actor Farhan Akhtar who plays his character in the just released biopic on the sportsperson tilted "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag".
"The boy is very hard working and he used to come to Chandigarh for tips to train for the movie. He had to pick up my style of running. The movie has come out very well... 80 to 90 per cent of the movie completely projects my life but the rest is fiction," says Singh.
The former national champion runner says he had requested filmmakers to donate 10 to 15 per cent of profits to the Milkha Singh Trust which looks after young women and families of sportsperson who have died.
Meanwhile the Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra directed and produced biopic has "come out very well and people have been calling me" says Singh.
Former US track and field star Carl Lewis who watched the film also called up Milkha Singh to convey his appreciation.
"He called after watching the movie with an Indian friend and was inspired by the hardships I went through. He was so happy that he wants to send me a gift," says Singh.