Lee, Hesh must play together for national pride: Milkha

It is said that to know the value of one second, one should speak to an athlete who lost out on a gold medal. Former India distance runner Milkha Singh, has time and again spoken of that 0.1 second that separated him from India’s first and what would have been till date, India’s only track and field Olympic medal (bronze), at the 1960 Rome Games where he finished fourth in the final of the 400m event.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi celebrate a point during the men's doubles final at the Doha Asian Games in 2006

Yesterday, the Flying Sikh was even more surprised to learn that Mahesh Bhupathi was letting personal issues overtake professional goals and in fact refusing the opportunity to represent the country at the epitome of sporting glory — the Olympics.

Bhupathi yesterday lashed out at the All India Tennis Association moments after they ignored his partner Rohan Bopanna and instead paired him with Leander Paes for the doubles event at next month’s Olympics Games.

India doubles stars Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Bhupathi-Bopanna issued a joint statement claiming that they were ‘saddened’ to learn that the AITA Selection Committee had not nominated them despite them having repeatedly and consistently communicated to the AITA their desire to ‘only be considered for selection as a team and not as individuals to be paired with any other players.’

Subsequently, the AITA threatened to ban the duo on disciplinary grounds. However, even that seemed to have had no effect on Bhupathi, who said that the decision to pair him and Paes for the London Olympics was ‘worst possible in the interest of the country’ and that he was even prepared for a ban (for his refusal to partner Leander).

Milkha Singh

Milkha was obviously surprised at Mahesh’s decision. “I’m very surprised to hear about the Bhupathi-Paes issue. It’s really sad if this actually happens (Bhupathi refuses to play with Paes),” Milkha told MiD DAY yesterday.

The 76-year-old is soft-spoken, but made a hard-hitting point nevertheless. “The basic concept behind multi-discipline sporting events like the Asian Games, Olympics of Commmonwealth Games is to promote brotherhood, camaraderie, peace, friendship, etc.

There is no place for animosity in sport and I’m sure both Leander and Mahesh understand this. Representing the country in any competition is an honour for an athlete and to do so at the Olympics is a matter of highest possible honour. I don’t think one should even think about turning such an opportunity down,” added the 200m and 400m double gold medalist of the 1958 Asian Games.

“I believe both Leander and Mahesh should forget their personal differences and go out and make India proud. They must remember that winning a medal at the Olympic is one of the biggest achievements for a sportsperson. We have done well in cricket, but how many countries play cricket at the highest level?

Ten… maybe 12. However, athletes from over 200 countries participate in an Olympics and winning in that competitive field shows what champions are made of. Leander and Mahesh have been great ambassadors for India and should not let their effort go to waste due to petty differences. Nothing and no one is above the honour and pride of the country,” he signed off.  

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