The story till then
After a traumatic childhood - his parents were killed in the Partition riots - and an unsettled youth, Milkha Singh settled down on joining the army. Its structured approach to sport gave him a shoehorn into running, and he picked 400 metres as his chosen event. Within a few years he was a national champion, and in 1958, Asian and Commonwealth champion. He had already competed in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, so he went to Rome, in 1960, with experience, form and a reputation.
Milkha went into the 400m final with a good record against most of the favourites and was tipped for a medal. He began the race brightly and took the lead. At the 250m mark he was still in front. Then he slowed down, looked at the pack, was overtaken and beaten into fourth spot by 0.1 seconds. There's no clear reason why he slowed down; Milkha himself has given several reasons for it, the most oft-cited being that he believed he couldn't sustain his pace over the race. It was all over in 46 seconds; the first four past the tape broke the Olympic record.
"That is my worst memory, after the death of my parents. I kept crying for days."
- Milkha Singh, in an interview many years later
"This one race, more than his gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, made Milkha Singh a legend."
- Novy Kapadia, journalist and historian
The story since
That error, and the defeat, hit Milkha very badly but he didn't crumble: two years later he retained his Asian 400m title and added the 4x400 relay gold to that. But his best years were clearly behind him; that was his last international hurrah. He'd done enough, though, to cement his place among the greatest of Indian sportsmen and earn the simple yet evocative nickname "Flying Sikh".
The Race of My Life: An Autobiography