Biopic on you, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, has been a box office success, but what was that one thing which moved you in the afterglow of the film?
I was told that the eight-time Olympic medallist Carl Lewis watched my movie (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag) at his home in US along with his Indian friend. He was completely moved by my story and asked for my phone number from his Indian friend. He called me and told me that he was completely swept off his feet by the story of a small village boy, who ran barefoot and scaled great heights without any scientific training. He also said that in US, athletes are trained scientifically from day one. A few days later, I got a gift from Lewis — a baton, which athletes use during the relay races. On the baton was inscribed “a present from Carl Lewis, multiple Olympic gold medallist to legendary Milkha Singh. I salute your achievements”.
I was touched by his gesture. This is the ultimate acknowledgement of my hard work from none other than one of the greatest athletes in the history of sports.
Are you happy that your movie has motivated a whole generation to take up athletics as a career?
If that is the case, I’m happy. But let me tell you that one game — cricket — has destroyed every other game in our country. I hardly see any child playing any other sport than cricket in cities across the country. Hopefully, this scenario will change because people should know that Usain Bolt is any day a bigger sportsperson than anyone else on this earth.
India has failed to produce any other Milkha Singh in last six decades. Why?
The onus is on our society and system to change and give more importance to sports like athletics.
Do we need more movies like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag or Chak De! India to motivate our society?
It is good if movies are motivating and inspiring our children to take up these sports. But we cannot become a sporting country without changing our mental attitude. In a country of 120 crore, why only Milkha, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, Sriram Singh, PT Usha and Anju George are the few names who made it to some level. Why no parent wants his child to play any game other than cricket? Why is money being pumped only in one game?
This can change if we change our mindset.
Recently, Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson got together in Seoul on the 25th anniversary of that dope-tainted 100 metres dash. Do you think that things like these can make present-day athletes aware about the menace of drugs?
What happened during the Seoul Games shocked all who watched that race 25 years back. Doping is rampant across the world because most of the coaches allegedly tell their wards that if they take performance enhancing drugs then they can achieve in one month which, otherwise, could take a year or more. The shortcut method is attractive and is basically the reason for this menace. However, one thing should be kept in mind by those who are trying to cheat by using drugs — if an athlete like Johnson is penalised then even their own future could be in doldrums. This was a big lesson to one and all.
It has been revealed that Carl Lewis failed the dope test more than once before the Olympic Games but was let off by the US Olympic Committee for some reason. Your comments?
I don’t want to say anything about any individual. If that was the case then the people behind this should be taken to task. I feel that the coaches are to be blamed more than the athletes because it is their duty to create an atmosphere of healthy competition and not of an artificial scare where an athlete feels that he or she can’t compete without the use of drugs.
What is the remedy then?
Nothing, except a life ban on those indulging in wrong practices. I ran in nearly 80 countries and won as many as 76 or 77 races in different parts of the world. I never heard about any performance-enhancing drug during my athletic days.
I can say it with confidence that every athlete around the world, with whom I interacted during my time, was clean and never cheated the sport for the sake of a medal. Winning and losing is part of a sportsman’s life. I created a world record but still lost in Rome. I’m still proud of what I did.
Why is the Indian athletics scene so bleak despite top level infrastructure after Commonwealth Games?
I’ve always advised the Sports Authority of India, which has been recruiting coaches in India that coaches should be taken on contract basis. Assign them a task and then review their work before renewing their contracts. Else, complacency will set in. The coaches have now got used to working like in government departments. Coaching is not a job… It’s a passion that a coach should have to produce world-class athletes.