September 6, 1960 was a red-letter day for Indian athletics. In Rome on that day, 25-year-old barefooted Milkha Singh broke the Olympic record in the 400 m. He lost the bronze medal by a heart-breaking 0.1 seconds, behind Malcolm Spence of South Africa. It was such a close race that the first two broke the world record and the three that followed them broke the Olympic record! His timing of 45.6 seconds was also a national record that stood for 38 years!
He lost his parents in the turmoil of Partition. He hid among the corpses in the train that was carrying his family to India. But he survived the horrific experience, and rose to become one of India's greatest athletes earning the sobriquet 'Flying Sikh'.
Milkha Singh held the national titles in the 100 m, the 200 m and the 400 m from 1957 to '61. In the 1958 Asian Games, he won gold in both the 200 m and the 400 m. He won the 400 m gold in the 1962 Asian Games as well.
After he hung up his boots, Milkha Singh was appointed Director of Sports in Punjab, a post from which he retired recently. His son Chiranjeev is a noted golf-player while his wife Nirmal is a former international volleyball player.