As the world paid tribute to ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh, after the 91-year-old legendary sprinter lost his month-long battle to COVID-19, few realised that at one time he wasn’t the fastest in India. (More Sports News)
Milkha reached great heights due to his perseverance, determination and hard work, but when he was still finding his feet in the world of athletics there was someone who was faster than him.
Honorary Captain OK Antony defeated Milkha in several Army Station Meets. In fact, Antony’s most treasured possession, when alive, was a photo of him atop the podium flanked by Makhan Singh and Milkha Singh -- taken during one such meet held between 1952-56. Makhan was an equally talented middle-distance runner, someone who trained with Milkha.
Antony died in 2018.
An article then written on onmanorama.com chronicles Antony's life and how chronic respiratory conditions cut short a brilliant career.
Antony, a jawan then used to run 100m, 200m and 400m events and defeated Milkha, who was an officer with the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME).
Despite being the one who was better than both legendary Milkha and Makhan -- two of the country’s best middle-distance runners, Antony died in obscurity.
As the chronic respiratory condition forced Antony to quit track, Milkha went from strength to strength.
Antony retired and shifted to Bethanygram, a home for the aged run by the Amala Institute of Medical Sciences. He donated his savings to fund marriages of girls from poor families and also sold his land, home and used the money to fund education of financially backward students.
As Antony settled into a life of obscurity Milkha reached greater heights and became a popular figure.
Another sprint great Kennth Powell, who was 17-time sprint champion, recalls how Milkha was popular in Europe too where people used to flock him.
“For me Milkha was the greatest as he ran against the world’s best and came fourth in 1960 Rome Olympics. PT Usha did it in 1984 Los Angeles but the field was depleted as many communists countries boycotted the event,” Powell had told Times of India. Powell was slated to race Milkha in the 1963 National Inter-state Athletics in Allahabad, but it never happened. Milkha pulled out of final after below-par times in heats and semis.