Photo: PTI/AFP
Photo: PTI/AFP

People in India and beyond were plunged into a state of mourning as iconic sportsperson Milkha Singh breathed his last on Friday night. Having tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of June, the 91-year-old had fought a lengthy battle against the virus, eventually succumbing to post-infection complications.

Dubbed The Flying Sikh by his many admirers, Singh's death has evoked an avalanche of grief and sadness, both online and offline. While the Punjab government declared one day of state mourning, political leaders, sportspeople, actors and countless others have taken to social media platfroms to pay tribute.

But as his name continues to remain a trending hashtag on Twitter, many have stepped forward demanding that he be awarded the Bharat Ratna. In may ways, it was Singh who put Indian athletics on the world map. He became the first Indian athlete to win an individual gold in a Commonwealth Games, which led to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declaring a national holiday on his request.

Rather surprisingly, it was only in 2001 that Singh was offered the Arjuna award. He had famously turned it down, saying the honour was not of the "stature of the services he rendered to the nation".

And while we're not sure how he would feel about the Bharat Ratna, Twitterati are presently on a mission to make their call heard, albeit posthumously.

Singh put his career record at 77 wins out of 80 races. He also claimed to have bettered the 'Olympics record' of that time in a race in France, but with sketchy records available, it is difficult to confirm just like his actual date of birth which is officially November 20, 1929. He lost the race of his life in the Rome Olympics, finishing the 400m final in 45.6 seconds, 0.1 second short of the bronze medal mark.

However, his timing at the Italian capital remained a national record for 38 years till Paramjeet Singh broke it in 1998 at a national meet in Kolkata. Singh retired from athletics after the 1964 Olympics, two years after winning the gold in 400m and 4x400m relay events at the Asian Games held at Jakarta.

(With inputs from agencies)

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