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Indian superstar sprinter Milkha Singh dies from COVID-19 complications

NEW DELHI -- Milkha Singh, one of India's first sports superstars and an ace sprinter who overcame a childhood tragedy to become the country's most celebrated athlete, has died. He was 91.

Singh's family said he died late Friday of complications from COVID-19 in a hospital in the northern city of Chandigarh.

Singh had first tested positive for the coronavirus on May 20. His wife Nirmal Kaur, a former volleyball captain, had died of the virus just days earlier. She was 85.

"He fought hard but God has his ways," Singh's family said in a statement.

Popularly known as "The Flying Sikh," Singh was the first Indian athlete to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in the 400 meters in 1958. He narrowly missed out on an Olympic medal, finishing fourth in the 400-meter final at the 1960 Rome Games.

Singh represented India at the Olympics in 1956, 1960 and 1964.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led tributes to the athlete and called him a "colossal sportsperson, who captured the nation's imagination and had a special place in the hearts of countless Indians."

"His inspiring personality endeared himself to millions," Modi tweeted.

Singh was born in a small village of undivided India, which is now in Pakistan. He saw his parents and siblings being killed by a mob during the Partition of British India, which left up to 1 million people dead and led to the creation of two new countries -- India and Pakistan.

During the riots, Singh escaped to the jungle and managed to find a train that brought him to New Delhi, where he later joined the army.

Singh's exploits on the track made him a national hero. His story of becoming the newly created country's first athletic champion has been passed on to generations. In 2013, his life was turned into a popular Bollywood film, "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" (Run Milkha Run).

Singh is survived by a son -- golfer Jeev Milkha Singh -- and three daughters.