Chandigarh: Legendary athlete Milkha Singh still feels the pain of missing out on an Olympic medal five decades ago and says his one last wish is to see an Indian win an Olympic gold in athletics.
"My last desire before I leave this world is that I want an Indian boy or a girl to win an Olympic gold medal for the country and for my sake. I failed to win it in Rome Olympics in 1960," 'Flying Sikh' Milkha told PTI in an interview Saturday.
"After 2-3 years, I may be no more. Just a few days back my dear friend Dara Singh, who was like a brother to me, passed away. Whether I will live for next few years more, it is up to God. I want to see an Indian win an Olympic gold in athletics," said the 82-year-old.
Milkha had clocked 45.60 seconds in 1960 Rome Olympics 400m race to finish fourth in a photo finish, beaten by Malcolm Spence of South Africa for the bronze.
Milkha, who won gold in 1958 and 1962 Asian Games and is also the only Indian man to win an individual athletics gold in the Commonwealth Games, said the fact that no Indian has ever won an Olympic medal in athletics saddens him.
"Athletics is considered number one sport in the world, be it Olympics, Commonwealth or Asian Games. But since India gained Independence, only five reached the finals in athletics event and all failed to win a medal, myself including. Others were Gurbachan Singh Randhawa (1964), Shri Ram Singh (1976), PT Usha (1984) and Anju George. I feel ashamed that after 1947 we produced a number of athletes, but failed to win any medal," said Milkha.
Milkha knows that it would be a big ask for the current Indian athletes to win a medal in athletics in the upcoming London Olympics.
"Although it is my last desire that we should fetch a gold, but I know in reality it will be no less than a miracle if we do it in London. I have some hope from Krishna Poonia and she may get a bronze. She won a gold in the Delhi Commonwealth Games," he said.
Milkha recalled that during his time, there was a dearth of good coaches, stadia, equipment and money.
"But today, we have 40,000 coaches with SAI, latest equipment, foreign coaches are available, but despite this we have not been able to reach the standards we should have achieved.
"I don't blame the government for our sorry state, it is providing money, facilities, equipment, building stadia, but result lies with the athletes themselves and their associations, be it of hockey, athletics or football," he pointed out.
He said that to reach Olympic or world standard was not something that can happen overnight.
"Indian Olympic Association is responsible, the federations are responsible. They should call meetings. Goals and targets should be set well in advance," he said, adding it would be unfair to put the blame on the Sports Ministry.
Milkha Singh put the onus of showing the results on the athletes, saying that they should put in extra work hard.
"I am a living example before them. I ran 80 international races and won 77 of them. It is no small achievement. The world [in late 1950s] knew if anyone could win a medal in 400m race in Olympics in Rome, it will be Milkha Singh," said Milkha, who had won a gold in the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games.
"Why people still remember Dhyan Chand, India has not produced hockey legend like him. I am invited in numerous functions and I keep telling our younger crop that they have to do work hard," he said.
Milkha said when he first ran 400m, he clocked one minute but by sheer dint of hard work he could improve upon the timings to world standard.
"People gave me suggestions and I clocked 55 seconds and it took me four years to reach 46 seconds to achieve world standards. To improve by one second, you will have to put in lot of effort, nothing is going to happen overnight," he said.
Touching upon hockey, he said "we taught hockey to the world, but we fell behind. Whatever happened in the past was due to politics mixing with sports".
He called for a change in the set up, which allows politicians or bureaucrats to occupy positions in the sports associations/federations for years together.
"Their sole aim is to flex muscles and the interest they should take for the betterment of sports and sportspersons is not as it should be. Things will only improve when these bodies will have technical people or sportspersons of acclaim," he said.
He was critical of sports administrators like Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot.
"People may contest against them, but they will not get votes, such is the prevalent system. Take the example of [former hockey captain-turned politician] Pargat Singh, he lost to 84-year-old politician Vidya Stokes.
"It needs a big change to overhaul the system and to set the things right. Look at the London Olympics, Sebastian Coe is at the helm and the contributions of sportspersons is being recognised," Milkha said.
He said the federations should be accountable to the Sports Ministry and they should be pulled up if they don't deliver results.
"Any IAS or IPS officer should not be able to fight federation elections until he gets clearance from the Centre," he said.