We have many great people that came, conquered and left, unheard and unsung. There are many men and women of genius whose anecdotes are still toiling in anonymity. Their legends are still to be voiced; their exploits are still to be discovered.
Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, an Indian wrestling prodigy who won a bronze medal at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, is one such forgotten legend. Jadhav was one of the first athletes from India to win a medal in the Olympics. Khashaba belonged to the era when individual medals were a dream for India, and the only medals it used to win were in field hockey, a team sport. Jadhav’s feat remained unbroken for nearly half a century until Leander Paes claimed a solo bronze in 1996. Despite the glory he brought to his country, Jadhav remains the only Olympic medalist who hasn’t been awarded the Padma.
In 1926, Jadhav was born in Goleshwar Tal, a village in the Indian state of Maharashtra. He received elementary education at Tilak High School in Karad district of Maharashtra. Belonging to a family of wrestlers, Jadhav was interested in the sport from his early childhood. The famous wrestler Dadasaheb Jadhav was his father. At the age of 8, Jadhav beat the local champion in just a couple of minutes and went on to become the favorite of his area.
Jadhav’s father introduced him into wrestling at a tender age. Baburao Balawde and Belapuri Guruji were his other mentors. Though actively involved in wrestling, Jadhav was a good student. Further, he answered the call of the nation in the meantime and took part in Quit India agitation.
Career in Wrestling
Started professional wrestling in 1948, Jadhav first came into the public eye at the London Olympics of the same year. There, he came 6th in the flyweight category and was the first Indian to secure such a high position in an individual event. Notably, Jadhav’s 6th-place finish came at a time when he first wrestled on a mat, along with international rules which were new to him.
Following years, Jadhav trained even harder for the next Olympics where he participated in the 57 kg category. He surprised everyone with his win over contenders from Mexico, Germany, and Canada, before losing his semi-final session. But he made a spectacular comeback to bag the historical bronze medal, the first individual Olympic medal of post-Independence India.
Victim of partiality
Before the selection for the 1952 Olympics, Jadhav alleged the officials of nepotism. Reportedly, they intentionally cut his one point that sealed Jadhav’s loss at the National Games in Madras, and thus got him out of the Olympic race. However, Jadhav did not succumb to corrupt authorities and appealed to Maharaja of Patiala to see into the matter. The Maharaja, a patron of sports, noticed Jadhav’s point and arranged his entry in Olympic trials. There, Jadhav made his opponent bite the dust and secured his Olympic berth.
Lack of support from the concerned authorities
Nevertheless, there were further hurdles in the Olympic dream. Due to the lack of sponsorship, Jadhav and his family started collecting funds to finance his participation. There was not a single sign of help coming from any quarter, not even from the CM office despite repeated requests. Then, Balasaheb Khardekar, the principal of the college where Jadhav studied, mortgaged his home and supported his aspiring student.
The dream came true
At last, defying all odds, Jadhav secured a bronze medal in 1952 Games. On his return to home, a massive victory procession accompanied by deafening beats of ‘drums’ was taken out in his village, and it continued for several hours. It was a moment of ecstasy for everyone in the village. Khashaba had brought recognition to the small village, which earlier was not more than a neglected dot on India’s map. Not only that, even the world now came to know that it was Goleshwar which gave India its first-ever Olympic legend.
Such was the craze that Jadhav had at that time which overshadowed the terrific Indian Hockey team and bagged gold at the Games. Jadhav was celebrated by his college and all the local wrestling clubs of Kolhapur.
Jadhav had not forgotten the favor by his college head. Jadhav organized local wrestling competition, in which he took part himself too, and handed over the prize money to his college principal to buy back the mortgaged house.
Moreover, in 1953, when Japanese wrestlers toured India, he defeated the world champion Unemori and continued his winning run.
Afterward – going into oblivion
In 1955, he got appointed in the Police as a Sub-Inspector where he won a number of competitions held within the Police Department, along with performing the duties of a sports mentor. He served the police for more than two and a half decades and retired as an ACP. Despite his services, Jadhav had to fight for a pension after retirement. For years, the sports federation neglected him too. Deprived of financial aid, Jadhav was forced to live in poverty in his last years. In 1984, he died in a tragical road accident.
Even after his sad demise, the nation did not pay him any respect or tribute. Jadhav’s name was almost forgotten. It was after seventeen years of his death that the Indian government finally recognized Jadhav’s contribution to Indian sports. He was posthumously decorated with the Arjuna Award in 2001.
Sanjay Dudhane has written a book on the story of Jadhav, titled “Olympic Veer K D Jadhav.”
International Wrestler Sangram Singh is planning to make a film on Jadhav’s life and exploits.
It is said that Jadhav would have won the gold at Helsinki. But owing to his difficulty to adjust to the mat surface, he missed. Lack of proper training and advanced knowledge of the game were the main issues. Still, after so many years have passed, our sports authorities are not providing adequate resources to our athletes. Be it a Common Wealth or an Olympic event; our players fail to deliver. It is not because they could not. But the problem is with our system that seems to be irresponsible and lacks in proper administration. Moreover, we also don’t appreciate other sports besides Cricket. Lack of public appraisal of sports other than Cricket is also a major factor that checks the development of several other games in India. If we want to compete at the global level, we need to produce more Jadhavs in every sport. And that would be possible only with support from the administration as well as the public. Only then India can do marvels in Olympics and other such big events.