Yearender 2021: Milkha Singh to MK Kaushik - Sporting legends India lost to COVID-19

Among the millions of lives the pandemic has claimed so far are some Indian sporting icons, who had left a lasting mark with their achievements.

By Ali Asgar Nalwala
Picture by Getty Images

Over the past year and a half, COVID-19 has created havoc across the globe claiming millions of lives in the process. 

Among those who lost their lives to the deadly virus are several Indian sporting icons, including Olympians. 

As 2021 draws to an end, we remember the sporting stars the country lost due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Milkha Singh - Track and field athlete

Known as the Flying Sikh, Milkha Singh was and remains a cornerstone for Indian track and field. He represented India at three Olympic Games - Melbourne 1956, Rome 1960, and Tokyo 1964.

At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Milkha Singh missed out on a medal by a whisker in the 400m race. He finished fourth with a time of 45.73s - a national record that stood for 40 years.

Milkha Singh breathed his last on June 18, 2021, at the age of 91. He battled COVID-19 for over a month and died five days after his wife Nirmal Kaur, a former captain of the Indian women’s volleyball team, died due to the same infection.

Ravinder Pal Singh - Hockey player

Ravinder Pal Singh was a member of the Indian hockey team that won gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. In the words of his captain Vasudevan Baskaran, Pal was a ‘complete player who was always willing to learn’. 

Ravinder Pal Singh also represented India at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. His international career, cut short by a chronic spinal injury, spanned from 1979 to 1984. He featured in the 1980 and 1983 Champions Trophy and the World Cup and Asia Cup in 1982. 

Ravinder Pal Singh died on May 8, 2021, at the age of 60 - two weeks after he was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Maharaj Krishan Kaushik - Hockey player

Maharaj Krishan Kaushik was a true giver to the sport. He was not only a decorated hockey player from the champion 1980 Olympics side but also took on the mantle of being the national coach for men’s and women’s teams post his retirement.

He received the Arjuna Award in 1998 and Dronacharya Award four years later for his contribution to Indian hockey. Apart from on-field achievements, MK Kaushik also influenced the making of the Bollywood movie Chak de! India.

MK Kaushik, like his 1980 Olympics teammate Ravinder Pal Singh, died on May 8, 2021, after a valiant three-week battle against COVID-19.

Ahmed Hussain Lala - Footballer

Ahmed Hussain Lala played as a defender in the Indian football team which put on an excellent show at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. India thrashed the hosts Australia 4-2 in the quarter-finals and eventually finished fourth - the country’s best-ever finish in an Olympic football event.

Ahmed also represented India at various other international tournaments, including the 1958 Asian Games.

Ahmed Hussain Lala breathed his last on April 16, 2021, at the age of 89.

Surat Singh Mathur - Long-distance runner

Surat Singh Mathur had the distinction of being the first runner from Independent India to complete an Olympic marathon race at the 1952 Helsinki Games. Mathur also won the bronze medal at the first-ever Asian Games in 1951.

He died of COVID-19 at the age of 90 on June 11, 2021.

Nikhil Nandy - Footballer

Former footballer Nikhil Nandy was an integral part of the Indian defence during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

He also helped India reach the semi-finals of the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo. Post his retirement, Nikhil Nandy continued to contribute as a coach and briefly took over the reins of the Indian football team.

Nikhil Nandy passed away at the age of 88 on December 29, 2020, due to health complications after contracting COVID-19.

Sanjay Chakravarty - Shooting coach

Sanjay Chakravarty did not participate in the Olympics but certainly facilitated one of the biggest medals for India.

The legendary shooting coach produced some of India’s sharpest shooters including 2008 Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Anjali Bhagwat, Suma Shirur, Deepali Deshpande, Anuja Jung and Ayonika Paul.

Chakravarty received Dronacharya Award and Maharashtra’s Dadoji Konddev Award for his contribution as a shooting coach. He also served as India’s national coach.

Sanjay Chakravarty was 79 when he lost his life to COVID-19 on April 3, 2021.

Ramesh Tikaram - Para athlete

Affected by polio since he was two-years-old, Ramesh Tikaram represented India at the 1992 Paralympics in various disciplines. He excelled in the shot put, discus throw and javelin throw before shifting his focus to badminton.

Tikaram founded the Badminton Sports Association for the challenged which later merged with the Badminton Association of India.

Tikaram received the Arjuna Award in 2002 for his contribution to Indian para-sports. 

He died of COVID-19 on July 15, 2021, aged 51.

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