Legendary sprinter Milkha Singh who infamously lost the Rome Olympics says tapping into rural talent can lead the country to excellence in athletics.
"If you look at history of a0athletics in the country almost all champions have hailed from the villages. Top Asian champions as well as the ones who have reached the Olympics have a rural background. Athletics talent is more prominent in the villages than in the urban areas because the main factor determining the difference is hard work which is an integral part of an athlete's training,"Singh told PTI in an interview.
Hailed as the 'Flying Sikh' for his legendary prowess on the track field, Singh says he used to run barefoot daily on hot sand to school, which was situated 20 kms from his house.
"Today you cannot expect this from kids from the urban areas. I am not saying urban kids can't do it but hard work has to be done by them," says Singh whose life story has been published recently in a new book.
India owes its first ever gold in athletics at the Commonwealth Games to Milkha Singh who still regrets his loss at the 400-metre event at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Singh feels that early identification of talented individuals is also important for India's athletic teams to shine.
"In today's India there is no dearth of amenities and facilities as well as money. I do not blame the government for not providing infrastructure to athletes. They have given everything for training of athletes. We have money, stadium, latest equipments and coaches
"We also have to train them in a scientific line and have to identify good athletes from school level. We have to keep them all in one academy and train them," says Singh.
The former sprinter points out that from the time after Independence the country has produced only four to five eminent athletes all from a rural background.
"Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, Sriram Singh, PT Usha, Anju Bobby George all of them have reached the finals but never brought back a medal," says Singh.
"In our era there was nothing, no coaches, no stadium, no money, no one used to ask us. But today there is everything. I would like to suggest that sports academies and scientific method of training should be brought into the country jus like what the Chinese have done," says Singh.
According to Singh India has nearly almost 40,000 coaches in various sports.
"...sports authority should hire coaches only on contract basis in athletics and also in other games. The coaches should be told to produce medals in upcoming Olympic Games. Only then will they work day and night and push sportsmen and women to work harder," says Singh.
The former sprinter has also urged the government to open more academies where athletes can train as well as study.
"The education, food, training and competitions of the athletes should be completely taken care of. These kids should be tested every 15 days for their performance and issues should be resolved if they are not improving performance. Only after such levels of hard work can the country's athletic standards improve," says Singh.
Not much of a movie buff himself Singh says he had given a few pointers to train for actor Farhan Akhtar who plays his character in the just released biopic on the sportsperson tilted "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag".
"The boy is very hard working and he used to come to Chandigarh for tips to train for the movie. He had to pick up my style of running. The movie has come out very well... 80 to 90 per cent of the movie completely projects my life but the rest is fiction," says Singh.
The former national champion runner says he had requested filmmakers to donate 10 to 15 per cent of profits to the Milkha Singh Trust which looks after young women and families of sportsperson who have died.
Meanwhile the Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra directed and produced biopic has "come out very well and people have been calling me" says Singh.
Former US track and field star Carl Lewis who watched the film also called up Milkha Singh to convey his appreciation.
"He called after watching the movie with an Indian friend and was inspired by the hardships I went through. He was so happy that he wants to send me a gift," says Singh.