New Delhi, June 19: “We may not have seen you compete, but every time we ran fast as kids, we ran ‘like Milkha Singh’,” India's football captain Sunil Chhetri summed up what ‘The Flying Sikh’ meant to the nation, which mourned the end of an era following the nonagenarian sprint icon’s death.
Milkha died at Chandigarh's PGIMER hospital on Friday night, less than a week after he lost his wife Nirmal Kaur, a former national volleyball captain, to the same ailment. He was 91 and is survived by his golfer son Jeev Milkha Singh and three daughters.
From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cricket superstars to India's new age track-and-field hopes like Hima Das, the tributes were not just an admiration of Milkha's legacy but also the strong influence it had on the nation's sporting culture.
Modi described him as “colossal sportsperson”, who captured the India's “imagination”. One of India's greatest cricketers, Sachin Tendulkar, said Milkha's legend will live on. “Rest in Peace our very own ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh ji. Your demise has left a deep void in every Indian's heart today, but you shall keep inspiring several generations to come,” Tendulkar tweeted.
It was Chhetri perhaps, who best summed up the icon for a generation which didn't see him compete but grew up being inspired by his race for a better life which started as a 15-year-old during India's partition. “We may not have seen you compete, but every time we ran fast as kids, we ran 'like Milkha Singh'. And for me, that will always be the legend you leave behind. You didn't just run, you inspired. Rest in peace, sir. #MilkhaSingh,” Chhetri tweeted. .
Hima, a 400m runner herself like Milkha, said the iconic sprinter had once told her that she was destined for big things. “After winning World Championship U20 title & medal in Asian Games, I still remember a call from #MilkhaSingh sir that ‘Hima just keep on working hard, you have ample time and you can win a medal Gold medal for our country at a global level’,” she recalled in a tweet. "I will try to fulfill your dream sir," she promised.
Olympic-bound star javelin throwers Neeraj Copra tweeted "We lost a Gem. He will always remain as an inspiration for every Indian. May his soul Rest in peace." Condoling the death, Home Minister Amit Shah said the one of the brightest stars of Indian sports has been lost.
"India mourns the sad demise of legendary sprinter Shri Milkha Singh Ji, The Flying Sikh. He has left an indelible mark on world athletics. Nation will always remember him as one of the brightest stars of Indian sports. My deepest condolences to his family and countless followers," India's cricket head coach Ravi Shastri also joined the sports fraternity in condoling his death.
"India’s greatest @Olympics runner. Shook the world in 60s with his competitive spirit inspite of the most limited facilities. He took the word determination and will to compete to another level. Respect. God bless your soul. Condolences to @JeevMilkhaSingh & family," Shastri tweeted.
Sports Authority of India (SAI) expressed "immense sadness at the demise of one of India’s greatest ever sportspersons 'The Flying Sikh' Milkha Singh.
Athletics Federation of India President Adille Sumariwalla called Milkha "a Titan who lifted the profile of athletics in a young nation...His sharp observations on Indian sport will be missed. His towering legacy will continue to inspire generations of young Indians. Rest in peace legend.”
“A huge loss for the sport of athletics today. Rest well #MilkhaSingh ji,” Olympian Anju Bobby George tweeted. “Really shocked by the demise of the legend Milkha sir. You will forever have a very special place in my heart.The Flying Sikh will live forever. RIP," said another Indian sprinter Muhammed Anas Yahiya.
Former India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh also expressed his condolences on the micro-blogging site.
"Very sad,heartbreaking to hear flying sikh Sardar Milkha singh ji is no more... waheguru #RIPMilkhaSinghji." Indian tennis star Sania Mirza said. “Really shocked and sad to learn about the passing away of the legend Milkha Singh ji. Om Shanti,” Javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia said.
Decorated doubles badminton player Jwala Gutta joined in expressing her sadness. “What an inspiration you were to the millions like us…. There will be none like you sir Rest in peace legend #MilkhaSingh," she posted.
The official handle of the Indian football team also mourned Milkha's death. “We join the nation in mourning the loss of the iconic 'Flying Sikh' Milkha Singh. His incredible achievements will continue to inspire future generations. May his soul rest in peace RIP.”
Assam Chief Minister Himanata Biswa Sarma said: “Saddened at the demise of ‘Flying Sikh’ Captain Milkha Singh. His laurels had not only made India swell with pride but also inspired generations of sports enthusiasts. My condolences to his family. Om Shanti!”
Indian wicketkeeper batsman Wriddhiman Saha, squash player Joshna Chinappa and shooter Sanjeev Rajput also paid homage to the sprint icon. “Saddened by the passing away of #MilkhaSingh ji. RIP the Flying Sikh. An inspiration for millions. A great loss to our nation,” Saha tweeted.
“"Very saddened to hear about the passing of Milkha Singh Sir. A True Legend and Champion. You will be greatly missed. RIP Sir,” Chinappa wrote. “A great loss to the nation. Rest in Peace legend #MilkhaSingh ji. Om Shanti,” Rajput tweeted.
Olympic-bound weight-lifter Mirabai Chanu tweeted, "The nation will always remember you for your invaluable contribution and seek an inspiration from your life forever. RIP #MilkhaSingh sir.-Agencies