Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav: The forgotten hero

Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav alias K. D. Jadhav was independent India`s first ever Olympic medal winner. He fought official apathy and overcame financial crunch to win a bronze medal in wrestling at the 1952 Helsinki Games.

Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav was born in Goleshwar village, a small village on the banks of the Krishna River in Karad taluka of Maharastra. He did his schooling in Tilak High School in Karad between 1940-47. Since his grandfather, Nanasaheb, was an excellent wrestler, Khashaba grew up in a household that breathed and lived wrestling. During his school days, he achieved success in sports like weightlifting, swimming, running, gymnastics and Malkhamb apart from wrestling.

Since his father, Dadasaheb, was a wrestling coach, Khashaba was initiated into wrestling from the tender age of five. His mother was simple, quiet, humble, reticent and accommodating - qualities that Khashaba imbibed in his life. In spite of the family barely making two ends meet, Khashaba would travel to the neighbouring villages to see the wrestling matches held in the fairs. In 1934, at the age of eight, he won his first bout in a mere two minutes against the wrestling champion in the match held at the Rethare village. He received formal training in wrestling in Tilak College and it was at this juncture that he resolved to become a distinguished wrestler. He wrestling mentors in this college were Baburao Balawde and Belapure Guruji. His success in wrestling did not prevent him from achieving good grades in academics.

He also participated in the Quit India Movement of 1942. Providing shelter and a hiding place to the revolutionaries, circulating letters against the British were some of his contributions to the movement.

His career in wrestling started in the period 1948-1954 when he started studying in Rajaram College at Kolhapur. His remarkable wrestling skills won him laurels in the inter-college and inter-university competitions. Through persistence and perseverance, he also achieved success at the national level, and qualified to participate in the Olympics. On India’s first Independence Day, 15th August 1947, he resolved to unfurl the Indian tri-colour in the Olympics.

His trip was sponsored by close friends, well wishers and teachers. He stunned the audience in the 1948 Olympics in London by defeating the Australian wrestler in the first few minutes of the bout and came in sixth in the 52 kg flyweight category. He was the first Indian to achieve this high a place in the individual category until 1948. Considering that the technique of wrestling on the mat was unheard of in the country, his success was indeed commendable. The role played by his coach Prof. Govind Purandare of Rajaram College as his guide and mentor proved to be crucial.

After finishing 6th at the 1948 Olympic Games, Jadhav fought his way to represent India at London Olympics. He defeated wrestlers from Canada, Mexico and Germany, to win bronze medal on 23rd July 1952. Thus he created history.

Japan wrestlers toured India in the year 1953. In the bouts that ensued, Khashaba defeated the world champion Unemori and continued his winning streak.

In 1955, he joined the police force as a sub-inspector. He won several competitions held within the Police department. He also performed National duties as a sports instructor. He was honoured by making him a part of the torch run at the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi. However, his feats did not adequately earn him the respect and appreciation he deserved. He served the police force for twenty-seven years and retired as an Asst. Police Commissioner from erstwhile Bombay. In spite of his meritorious service, Khashaba had to fight for his pension – a deplorable lack of rectitude for a person of his stature and respect.

He was honoured with several awards the Arjuna Award (in 2001, posthumously). In memory of his memorable win at the Olympics, a sculpture of Khashaba was erected in Kolhapur in 1960. The government to honour his feat, re-christened the wrestling venue in the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex in New Delhi as K. D. Jadhav Stadium.

He died in an accident in Karad on 14 August 1984. It took fifty years for India to win its next Olympic medal in the individual category, which makes Khashaba’s bronze effort, achieved in trying circumstances, even more commendable.

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