Milkha Singh (C) after he won gold medal at Asian Games in 1958.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has proven to be a runaway success. And this is both good and bad news for the country.
While the response to the film shows that we as a country do appreciate sports other than cricket, it is also a reflection on the sad reality that we only have heroes of an earlier generation to look up to.
These include not just the Flying Sikh but also other track and field athletes such as Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, Sriram Singh and PT Usha –- all Olympic finalists who produced world-class performances but fell short of medals, and whose half-a-century-old achievements and national records have seldom been surpassed.
Consider this. When US gold-winner Otis Davis set a world record of 45.9 seconds in the 1960 Rome Olympics 400m final, Milkha came a close fourth with 45.6.
Since then, only two Indians have gone past his mark. KM Binu’s national record is 45.48, while our year’s best is a pedestrian 46.71. The world’s best usually clock under 44 seconds.
Sriram Singh’s 800m national record set in 1976 at the Montreal Olympics still stands as does PT Usha’s 400m hurdles national mark set in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics.
And there’s more. India’s Lavy Pinto clocked 10.8 seconds and 22.0 in 100m and 200m respectively in 1951, when the world’s best was 10.2 and 20.6.
Today, Abdul Najeeb’s national 100m mark is a modest 10.3 and Anirudddh Kalidas Gujjar’s season’s best is 10.61. No doubt Usain Bolt’s 9.58 seems to be from another planet.
Experts are concerned by the steep fall in the number of boys and girls taking up track and field, with the doping cases among the elite bunch turning away many.
They say that a lack of desire to excel as well as dwindling support for athletics have also led more and more Indians to fall in the heap of also-rans in international events.