SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Despite being eliminated in the 400m heats at the 1956 Olympics, Milkha Singh did not lose heart but instead became more determined to achieve successFlying back in time
Milkha Singh talks to G. S. Paul about his nostalgic trip to Melbourne,  where he began his Olympic journey 50 years ago
It was an invitation Milkha Singh simply couldn’t refuse. The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) gave the Flying Sikh a golden opportunity to visit the place where he made his Olympic debut 50 years ago, and he flew to Melbourne with his wife Nirmal to relive the precious memories.

Despite being eliminated in the 400m heats at the 1956 Olympics, Milkha Singh (encircled) did not lose heart but instead became more determined to achieve success

Michael Schumacher’s victory at the San Marino Grand Prix was his first since Indianapolis last June, 13 races agoIN THE NEWS
Schumi on track
Alan Baldwin
Ferrari fans had almost forgotten how it felt to see Michael Schumacher standing on top of the Formula One podium, happily conducting their Italian national anthem.





Michael Schumacher’s victory at the San Marino Grand Prix was his first since Indianapolis last June, 13 races ago. — Photo by Reuters

Story of the Socceroos
Julian Linden

Australia’s two World Cup soccer teams from 1974 and 2006 — both hailed as trailblazers for defying great odds to reach the finals — could not have been more different.

 
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Flying back in time

Milkha Singh talks to G. S. Paul about his nostalgic trip to Melbourne, where he began his Olympic journey 50 years ago

It was an invitation Milkha Singh simply couldn’t refuse. The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) gave the Flying Sikh a golden opportunity to visit the place where he made his Olympic debut 50 years ago, and he flew to Melbourne with his wife Nirmal to relive the precious memories.

Milkha got the honour of leading the Indian contingent for the “India Night” on March 23 and the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games on March 26. The Indian sporting legends who literally followed in his footsteps included Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Prakash Padukone, PT Usha, Michael Ferreira, Ajit Pal Singh and Karan Singh, besides contemporary stars like Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Anju Bobby George.

The closing ceremony was special for the country as the Commonwealth Games Federation flag was handed over to India, the host of the 2010 games.

Going down memory lane, the Flying Sikh said, “This place (Melbourne) is enshrined in my heart. This is where the fire within me was kindled. It was a great honour to represent the country at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956”.

Milkha went to the Olympic Village built for the 1956 games. Little remained of the past except memories. “There is a huge, lavishly built sports complex which houses the Melbourne Cricket Ground. A state-of-the-art gymnasium hall has been built on the place where there used to be an entry gate for athletes. They have put a huge map at this place, which depicts all the golden moments.”

Milkha became quite nostalgic on seeing Australian Sprint Queen Betty Cuthbert’s pictures. “She was a good friend of mine. She was fascinated by my turban and beard. I taught her how to tie a turban and she even gave it a try,” he recalls.

When Milkha told Australian officials about his friendship with Betty, they photographed him with her pictures and decided to display the images with this interesting story.

He seems to have an inexhaustible amount of anecdotes about his golden years. “Times have really changed. In those days there were long wooden planks instead of chairs for the spectators and instead of the six-lane cinder track we had an eight-lane synthetic track,” he recalls.

“I ran the 400m race barefoot on the same track because I had no idea about running shoes. I was totally lost, like an uneducated child. The clear superiority of the others in the fray shocked me, but it also inspired me. Since I was too raw, I was eliminated in the heats. But I drew up the courage to talk to the winner, Charles Jenkins of the USA, who told me about his training schedule.”

This was the turning point in Milkha’s career. He followed Jenkins’ schedule rigorously and prepared himself for the Asian Games in Tokyo, the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff (both held in 1958) and the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

Milkha also got to meet Kevan Gosper, a minister and the Chairman of the Olympics Committee in Australia. “Kevan was part of the Australian relay team that came third during the 1958 Commonwealth Games, where I clinched the gold for my country. It was an emotional reunion,” he says.

It was at Cardiff that Milkha won his favourite event, the quarter mile, in 46.6 seconds, beating South African Malcolm Spence. Two years later, during the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, Spence beat him to the bronze medal by just 0.1 seconds.

Regarding the 2010 games in New Delhi, the Flying Sikh has a word of advice for the organisers. “I met IOA chief Suresh Kalmadi and Army Chief Gen. JJ Singh in Melbourne and asked them to hand over the training of sportspersons, especially athletes, to the Army in order to ensure discipline. You can spend billions to build infrastructure, but no amount of money can buy you medals. The Indians should target finishing on the top of the medals tally,” he signs off.
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IN THE NEWS
Schumi on track
Alan Baldwin

Ferrari fans had almost forgotten how it felt to see Michael Schumacher standing on top of the Formula One podium, happily conducting their Italian national anthem.

The German reminded them at the San Marino Grand Prix on Sunday (April 23), with the seven-times world champion capping his record 66th pole position with Ferrari’s first “real” win since October, 2004.

The last time the German stood on the top step was actually in Indianapolis last June, 13 races ago.

However, with angry US fans booing and hurling bottles at the track after all but six cars withdrew before the start due to tyre safety concerns, there was little real reason to celebrate then.

Sunday ensured that fiasco would not be the last win of Schumacher’s career and Imola may not be the last appearance at Ferrari’s home circuit either for the most successful driver in the history of the sport.

Although the 37-year-old has yet to decide whether to continue racing after the end of the season, he has said he sees no reason to stop if he is still enjoying himself and that seemed evident enough in the April sunshine.

Asked whether the result at Imola, his seventh win at the circuit since 1994, would affect his feelings for the future, he replied simply “No”.

His feelings on Sunday were very much for the present, an expression of relief that the long wait had ended in front of Ferrari’s home crowd.

“We had an amazing weekend,” said Schumacher, whose victory comes with perfect timing to sell a few more tickets for the next race at his home Nuerburgring circuit in Germany.

“The result shows that work pays off and that the effort put in by everyone — the team and our partners — has delivered its reward.”

Ferrari had been eclipsed by Renault in 2006 with Schumacher crashing out in Australia this month and slowed by engine troubles in Malaysia.

At Imola, he was able to turn the tables on Renault’s world champion Fernando Alonso, the young Spaniard who so audaciously beat him on the same track last year in a nose-to-tail duel.

“When I was going up to the podium, I said to Michael that I could not remember the way anymore, it had been such a long time since the last victory,” said the Frenchman. — Reuters
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Story of the Socceroos
Julian Linden

Johnny Warren was a key member of the Australian team that made it to the World Cup soccer finals in 1974
Johnny Warren was a key member of the Australian team that made it to the World Cup soccer finals in 1974

Australia’s two World Cup soccer teams from 1974 and 2006 — both hailed as trailblazers for defying great odds to reach the finals — could not have been more different.

While the current crop of players earn a fortune plying their trade in the top European competitions and are feted like pop stars, the 1974 team were the ultimate band of brotherly misfits.

They did not win a match or even score a goal at the World Cup in Germany. They lost 0-2 to East Germany, then 0-3 to hosts and eventual champions West Germany but drew 0-0 with Chile. Nevertheless, until now they have been unrivalled as Australia’s finest team.

The best known of the players was Johnny Warren, a loveable “larrikan” who later became a television commentator and penned a best-selling book.

Such was Warren’s popularity that when he died from lung cancer in 2004 the government honoured him with a state funeral.

He died a year before his beloved Socceroos qualified for the World Cup for the second time but was credited with playing a bizarre role in their belated success.

Warren’s book detailed how he believed the Australia team had been living under a curse since a 1969 trip to Mozambique when they fell foul of an African witchdoctor.

The Australians had asked the witchdoctor to put a curse on their opponents but when they could not afford to pay him, he turned the curse on them.

When Warren told the story to an Australian television comedian in 2004, the host agreed to go back to Mozambique. The witchdoctor had died but he found another who said he could lift the curse.

A chicken was sacrificed and its blood was splattered over the comedian who then travelled to Sydney’s Olympic stadium where he and Warren washed themselves with clay the witchdoctor had given them.

It made for some good, light-hearted television but two years later Australia's long and heart-breaking run of World Cup misses did end, when they beat Uruguay at the same Olympic stadium.

A lesser-known, but no less fascinating, character is the 1974 Australian captain Peter Wilson, a no-nonsense centre-half who was born in Middlesbrough, England.

Wilson made 115 appearances for the Socceroos but now lives as a recluse and has not spoken publicly in more than two decades.

Australia’s key striker was Atti Abonyi, who emigrated to Australia from Hungary when he was aged 10 and now reportedly runs a laundry business. The team still gets together every four years to celebrate their achievement in getting to the finals. — Reuters
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SPORTS MAIL

Team India on a roll

The Indian one-day team, led admirably by Rahul Dravid, deserves accolades for the convincing 5-1 win over England in the seven-match ODI series. As a result of their fine performance, India have moved up the ICC ODI rankings, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni dethroning Australia’s Ricky Ponting from the top spot among batsmen.

Yuvraj Singh richly deserved the man-of-the-series award. The southpaw has been very consistent with the bat in recent months.

The series could have been a 6-0 affair had skipper Dravid played in the sixth ODI. In his absence, Virender Sehwag led the side but he fared poorly both as a captaincy and a batsman.

Despite the 5-1 result, the performance of the Indian top order was by and large dismal. It was the middle order and the tail which did the job for India in most of the matches.

— D.K. Aggarwala, Phagwara

II

India have won most of their recent one-dayers chasing targets. The team batting first plays with a different mindset. At New Delhi, Indian batsmen seemed to be trying for a total of 280, when 220 would have been plenty. Coach Greg Chappell should look into this aspect, especially with the World Cup in mind.

England have much work to do in one-day cricket, especially when playing quality spin on slow, turning pitches. It has surprisingly been their failing in one-day cricket but not in Tests.

— Prixit Shakya, Shimla

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