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Dear Me: Lost my first-ever 400m race, so don’t get disheartened - Milkha Singh

Milkha Singh, the ‘Flying Sikh’ says if you stay true to yourself and train sincerely, nobody can stop you from achieving excellence

Dear Me series Updated: Aug 11, 2017 16:31 IST
Milkha Singh
Milkha Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Milkha Singh,Athletics,Olympics
Milkha Singh says if you stay true to yourself and train sincerely, nobody can stop you from achieving excellence(Shantanu Mitra)

Dear 16-year-old Milkha,

You are lucky to be alive. In the past one year, you have seen bloodbath during Partition, the birth of two nations, murder of your parents, and you also landed up in Delhi as an orphan and refugee. You are lucky to find your sister. You have endured enough, but your hardships are not over. Later on, you will realise what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

It will be four years before you discover running. I wish you find your passion at least four years earlier than I did, because what I lost, I don’t want you to lose – an Olympic medal.

It was the quest for survival that took me to the world of sports. In my teens, I had no idea about running as a sports event. For me, an orphan, it was not only about learning how to survive the brutal world, but also about carving an identity.

In the next couple of years you might have to do odd jobs, from polishing shoes to working in a rubber factory. These obstacles are nothing compared to what you saw during Partition.

The urge to survive, and have three meals a day, took me to the Army. I was rejected twice before my elder brother helped me get recruited in the Army in 1952.

I lost in my first ever 400m race, the event I almost ruled later. So, don’t get disheartened with earlier defeats. As long as you remain true to yourself and continue training with sincerity, nobody can stop you from achieving excellence.

Remember one thing – you are going to represent the country one day. It will give you huge satisfaction and pride, but with that comes a responsibility – carrying the hopes of millions and the nation’s prestige.

I performed poorly in my first Olympics (Melbourne, 1956). But that defeat changed my perspective. We lacked proper scientific training, but I was curious to know how the world’s best train because I wanted to be one of them. I am sure one day you will also script history.

At Melbourne, I met a famous 400m runner, who explained a training programme in sign language after realising my limitations with the English language. And an American coach who was the physical instructor at Christian College, Lucknow played a crucial role in helping me win India’s first athletics gold medal in the Commonwealth Games, at Cardiff in 1958. So, keep an open mind and you will also benefit from great advice.

Let me also tell you about my losing the race of my life – missing a 400m medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics. It’s almost six decades, but the Rome loss still haunts me.

Before I close my eyes, I want to see an Indian athlete win an Olympic medal. So, I tell you again, never lose focus. If your passion for running remains intact, I am sure the young Milkha will achieve what this Milkha could not – an Olympic medal.

First Published: Jul 31, 2017 21:55 IST