Star Indian athletes Milkha Singh (left) and Kanwaljit Sandhu stride proudly round the track at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium bearing aloft the torch of Asian Games 82. (HT File) PREMIUM
Star Indian athletes Milkha Singh (left) and Kanwaljit Sandhu stride proudly round the track at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium bearing aloft the torch of Asian Games 82. (HT File)

“Film on Milkha Singh got Pakistan talking about Abdul Khaliq”

Athletics Federation of Pakistan president Muhammad Akram Sahi says bio-pic rekindled memories of that 1960 race in Lahore
By Shalini Gupta, Chandigarh
UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2021 07:43 PM IST

Right after the 1960 Rome Olympics, Milkha Singh was invited to take part in the 200m at an international competition in Lahore. Singh, who had not been to Pakistan since 1947, refused. The legendary runner agreed only after Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said his participation would improve relations between the countries.

Pakistan gave Singh, who finished fourth in the 400m in the 1960 Olympics, a rousing reception with children standing on the road holding flags of their country and India.

Also read | The admirer who broke Milkha’s record: Paramjit pays tribute to his role model

“Memories of that competition had faded. I got to know that it was a talked about event back then. But the movie ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ released in 2013 and people in Pakistan came to know about it,” said Muhammad Akram Sahi, president of Athletics Federation of Pakistan. Singh’s main rival was Pakistan’s Abdul Khaliq and their race was hyped as a contest between two countries. Singh won that race, Khaliq finished third. As General Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s second president, awarded the medals, he called Singh the ‘Flying Sikh’. It stayed with Singh, who died on Friday in Chandigarh aged 91, for the rest of his life.

Born in a Sikh Rathore family in Govindpura, Muzaffargarh, Singh’s village, Kot Addu, was located in a remote area near Multan. Singh managed to flee to New Delhi but his parents and some siblings were killed in the riots that followed Partition.

Also read | RIP Milkha Singh: Anand Mahindra pays heartfelt tribute to ‘The Flying Sikh’

“Abdul Khaliq is Pakistan’s legendary athlete. Some were of the opinion that he was better than Milkha. After watching the biopic ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, people in Pakistan also wished such a movie should have been made on Khaliq too as people did not know much about his life,” said Sahi.

Khaliq died in 1988 in Rawalpindi. He was the only Pakistani athlete in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and in Rome.

At the 1954 Asian Games, Khaliq set a 100m record of 10.6 seconds erasing the previous best of 10.8 seconds by Lavy Pinto of India in 1951. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, also the chief guest in Lahore, called Khaliq “The Flying Bird of Asia”.

Also read | Milkha Singh to be accorded state funeral, says Punjab CM Amarinder Singh

Khaliq won the 100m gold in the 1954 and 1958 Asian Games. He also won the 200m silver at the 1958 Games and the 4 × 100 m relay silver medal in both editions. At the 1958 Games in Tokyo, Singh won the 200 and 400m double. He retained the 400m gold in the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta.

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