Former athlete Paramjeet Singh said he was honoured to be invited by Milkha Singh for dinner at his residence in Chandigarh after he broke the legend's 38-year-old national record in 400 metres at a domestic meet in 1998.
"Since I was the first athlete to break Milkha Singh's 400m record of 45.73 seconds, he invited me and my coach Harbans Singh to his residence in Chandigarh for dinner in 1998. During discussion, he told me that his will to win was key to his success despite inadequate facilities in late 1960s," recalls Paramjeet of his first meeting with Milkha Singh, who passed away in Chandigarh on Friday night at the age of 91.
At a domestic meet in Kolkata 23 years ago, Paramjeet had clocked 45.70 seconds to improve Milkha's long-standing national record.
Much before Paramjeet's feat, the legend had offered Rs 2 lakh as prize to anyone who broke his 400m record. But when Paramjeet did that, Milkha gave him only Rs 1 lakh. Milkha later explained that the Rs 2 lakh prize was for breaking the record overseas.
Paramjeet said he has no problem with the money.
"The fact that he invited me for dinner and shared his running experience was more important than the cash incentive he had announced. We sat for three hours with him and his family. It was an experience of a lifetime. A world famous athlete calling you over for dinner at home is more valuable than any money. I got to learn a lot from him," Paramjeet told IANS.
The international sprinter from Punjab said that Milkha wanted to see Indian athletes excel at the Olympic Games.
"But till date no one has won," added Paramjeet.
Paramjeet, who was also a member of men's 4x400m relay team that won silver at the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games, said circumstances in his formative years had made Milkha very tough.
Milkha had to leave his village (now in Pakistan) after partition in 1947.
"His sports career is very inspiring. He had great enthusiasm and sports became a way of life for him. Athletics gave him recognition, name and fame. He told me, the harder you train the hardest you can run in races," said Paramjeet.
Paramjeet was also a key member of the men's 4x400m relay team that competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
In 2000, he lowered the national record further to 45.56 seconds at National Inter State Athletics Championships in Chennai.
"I could have breached 45 seconds in the 400m race but due to lack of international exposure, my performance stagnated. Had I got 10-15 races in one calendar year, I could have broken the 45-second barrier," said Paramjeet.