Twenty eight years after he finished fourth in the final of the 400 meters at the Rome Olympics and nearly two decades after he retired from the competitive scene, Milkha Singh remains as committed as ever to the sport that raised him to such heights. Arguably the greatest name in the Indian athletics, Milka Singh analyses the state of the art in India in this conversation.

‘Question: Do you believe, as some do that in terms of performances recorded, our standards in most events have actually fallen since your time?

‘Answer: I would say that there has been a definite decline in the overall standards. Question: What major reasons would you assign to this factor?

Answer: I think there is a new kind of insincerity about the whole business of participation in high level sports that seems to dominate the issue of quality performance. Athletes today, are doing a make believe effort. Coaches, sports officials, and sportsperson, all are to be blamed for this. The feeling with the present generation is that since one can achieve so many things in life ‘without trying hard enough, the same principle could be applied to sports, I believe our athletes are not professional enough. Question: There has been a great deal of discussion about utilizing the services of {foreign coaches in the training of national squads

Answer: I personally feel that there is no need to have regular foreign coaches for athletics. After all, we did produce world class athletes of the caliber of Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, Sriram Singh, Shivnath Singh, PT Usha and myself, to name a few, ‘without any foreign coaches. What is probably required, from time to time, is the exposure to the. knowhow on the latest techniques of training, apart from the availability of modem equipment for the field events in this sense we might have to occasionally seek experience from abroad, though not necessarily as coaches.

Question: Well, that is certainly a useful viewpoint. Tell me, if you were asked 10 plan a policy of promoting athletics in the country, what would you like to do on a priority basis?

Answer: That’s tricky question. I suppose ‘what you are asking me is to suggest a plan through which one and chum out champions of high caliber. In the first place I don’t think they can be produced at the drop of a hat. The process is a very long drawn out one. As a long term measure we should encourage the formation and development of sports schools and sports universities all over the country, I am happy about the setting up of the Sports Authority of India, What is now required is the establishment of seven 10 eight centers under their wing, where the latest and most up to date facilities are made available. We should use these to tap talent in the 10-12 age group and orient them in such a way that by the time they are able to take partin Competitive sport, they’re trained to understand the concept of coaching and competition.

Question: What is your general impression of the Indian athletics scene as it exists today? How would you compare it with the situation in your running days?

Answer: I feel rather sad about the state of affairs in Indian athletics today; It is what I would term ragtag and bobtail. When it is said that barring a handful, Indian athletes have not been able to make a dent on the international scene, I would blame the system under which our leading stars of today are being trained. I don’t believe, a some do, that there is not sufficient talented ne country, in fact | would say that our athletes are as good as the best anywhere set we have no system that aims at getting the maximum out of our men and women. I feel that our youngsters deserve far better opportunities than they get in the revealing setup of draining and competition. Secondly, I recall having trained five six hours a day in my time. I trained until ‘was totally exhausted and occasionally in saint, There were even more occasions when 1 was carried home, semiconscious with fatigue, The present day stars are not encouraged 10 train hard enough. They nave 10 do this if they are to reach the top. 1 set the impression that a most of them do not even know what they are training for. Question: The athletes of your era made a significant impact on the Indian, Asian, Commonwealth and even Olympic scene, in a far bigger way than their successors, despite the fact that they did not enjoy the kind of facilities that the present day athlete gets. Why has this happened?

Answer. I would repeat my earlier remark that the present generation of athletes is afraid of bard work. They usually call it a day after an hour’s workout. Besides, they don’t really make use of the facilities offered to them. Participation in athletics is serious business, whatever one’s level of performance, I am afraid our athletes do not quite see it that way.

Question: There has been so much talk about P.T. Usha’s chances at the next Olympics. Surely you must have some views about her efforts, since she has achieved more or less the same status as you did at the Olympic Games.

Answer: I firmly believe that Usha has not been trained to reach that all important final in the Olympics in the 400meter hurdles. She has the potential to do so, but you can’t achieve miracles by sitting back and testing on your laurels.

‘Question: What about the others among the leading athletes in the country?

Answer: Well, we have a first class women’s 4×400 metres relay squad, but they need to race more often and more than that, perfect the art of baton changing. How often does one hear about Indian relay teams losing titles — and even getting disqualified — for faulty baton changing. Coming to the others, there is this very talented youngster Angela Lincy, who has done a remarkable high jump of 1.72 metres. Here is an example of young talent that needs to be taken in hand and provided every opportunity to get better by competition. Athletes like her should be sent abroad for exposure to the big meetings, There are also people like long jumper Shyam Kumar, triple jumpers, Murali and Rajendra Singh, and pole-vaulters Vijaypal Singh who have shown great promise last season and should be groomed as our best bets for the next Asian Games,

Question: What about you’re on work in athletics? How have your trainees progressed in recent times in Chandigarh? Answer: There is a great deal of talent in Punjab today, especially in the throws and middle distance winning, The real problem is to sustain it against” the attraction of cricket and football. These are the two games that are now thriving in Punjab. Athletics would have to become more than ‘a mere training ritual if it is to progress like them, I am particularly happy about the success of young Avtar Singh as a short putter last year. I have reason to believe that there are many like him.

Question: What is your view about the role of athletes in the administration of the sports?

Answer: Athletes do not have to be coaches. They can be advisers, consultants; guides to the coaches, in many countries, athletic teams are managed by athletes because they understand the problems of fellow athletes far better than others. This is something we need to take note of especially when we are dealing with young and inexperienced track and field stars, Since the next two years are going to see new names on the national scene, it is important that they be handled by experts alone.

Question: Milkha, you have gained much ‘from your involvement with athletics, and ‘one can see your commitment to the whole culture of this sport. But seriously, if you want o live your athletics life all over again how would you tackle yourself and the world at large?

Answer: A very brief answer to your very difficult query. My attitude towards athletics and sports in general would not be any different from what it was in my younger days, I would add, however, that with the kind of knowledge and facilities available now, it would be possible for me to whatever I did, a little bit better.

Question: And the million dollar question what about the future of your own event; the 400 metres?

Answer: I feel particularly sad that my record of 1960 has not been bettered. In fact Indians seem to have stopped running below 47 sec for the past 10 years. We need to do something drastic about it. We have a galaxy of men like Muridharan, Kiberia, Surendra Singh and Rami Reddy. They need’ to race against each other, as I was, against Makhan Singh and Daljit Singh in my time, that alone will bring out the best in them.

Question: Looking back on your past performances, what do you feel most nostalgic ‘about?

Answer: I have such pleasant memories of those many battles with Carl Kaufmann and Kinder, every summer between 1958 and 1964, when I was able to travel to Germany to race there. I lost as often as I won from them, but I learnt much from the experience. Which is what today’s athletes miss.

(Courtesy: Tribune, Chandigarh).


Article extracted from this publication >> July 15, 1988