The secret behind late Milkha Singh's consistent performances at international level in 400m races was cross-country running which he did while building up for main competitions during his time in the Indian Army.
"Milkha Singh was a 400m runner but he could run hard and fast over a distance ranging from 5km to 10km in the months leading up to the main competitions. The endurance built through distance-running enabled him to run faster than others on the track," Bahadur Singh, the former chief national athletics coach, told IANS.
Milkha, who passed away in Chandigarh on Friday night at the age of 91, joined the Army in 1952 and was based at EME Centre in Secunderabad. He had spotted a small hill near the cantonment region for training.
"During my early days in Secunderabad I also ran alongside a local metre-gauge train and the driver of a particular train used to encourage me to run faster and would say "Come on Singh", "Come on Singh". It motivated me to run longer and helped me build speed and endurance," Milkha was quoted as saying by Telangana Today in July last year.
"It is for the simple reason that the hard work that I put in then laid the foundation for me to grow as an athlete. I still remember the EME Centre in Secunderabad. There was a hill (Ammuguda Pahad) near EME Centre where there was a Masjid. I used to climb up the hill carrying a stone-filled bag on my back with the army unit. It was basically to improve my stamina, strength and muscles," Milkha had recalled.
Paramjeet Singh, who was the first to break Milkha's 38-year-old 400m national record of 45.73 seconds, said that the legendary athlete trained hard. "Milkha sir told me that his long training stint in Germany before the 1960 Rome Olympics was very fruitful," Paramjeet told IANS.
"During the tour of Europe in late 1950s, Milkha Sir got the opportunity to race with top 400m athletes. It gave him a big advantage when he went to the Rome Olympics," added Paramjeet.
Milkha Singh, who passed away on Friday in Chandigarh, was also World Health Organisation's (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for physical activity in Southeast Asia region. He promoted physical exercise to reduce the burden of lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases. WHO condoled his death.