With just few days left for the start of the biggest sporting spectacle on earth, the London Olympics, let us remember those unsung heroes of Indian sports, who despite having a remarkable time as an athlete, failed to get their deserved recognition later on in their lives and were forced to go into oblivion.
He suffered because of nepotism and nearly missed the Olympics because the officials intentionally awarded him a point less at the Madras National games. When he somehow made the cut, he had to struggle to arrange for his traveling fare, along with his food and lodging expenses for participating in the Olympic Games. He had to fly to the Olympic games with the help of the funds received from friends and well-wishers.
For Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav alias KD Jadhav, life was never easy. Still, he went onto become the first individual medalist of independent India at the Olympic games, when he won the bronze medal wrestling in the bantamweight category at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. At a time when hockey was the only sport where India used to win medals at the Olympics, KD Jadhav’s achievement is arguably one of the greatest by an Indian at the Olympic games.
Born in a village called Goleshwar Tal in Satara district in Maharashtra, KD Jadhav was the youngest of the five sons of a renowned wrestler Dadasaheb Jadhav. At the tender age of 8, he defeated the local champion in just 2 minutes and went onto became the undisputed champion of his area.
Starting his wrestling career in 1948, he first broke into lime-light at the 1948 London Olympics when he finished 6th in the flyweight category. He was the first Indian to achieve such a high a position in the individual category until 1948. Despite being alien to wrestling on a mat as well as under international rules of wrestling, Jadhav’s 6th place finish was no mean feat at that time.
For the next four years, Jadhav trained even harder for the Helsinki Olympics where he moved up in weight and participated in the 125 lb bantamweight category which saw wrestlers from twenty-four different countries. He went on to defeat wrestlers from countries like Mexico, Germany and Canada, before losing his semi-final bout, but he came back stronger to win the bronze medal which made him the first ever individual Olympic medalist of independent India.
Although India’s hockey team bagged a gold at the Helsinki games, Jadhav was the primary attraction when India’s contingent returned home after the Olympics. Jadhav was facilitated by his college and all the wrestling Gymkhanas of Kohlapur. The principal of Shahaji Law College, Kolhapur, Prof Dabholkar mortgaged his own house to fund Jadhav’s participation in the Olympics. Jadhav had not forgotten this favour and on his return, he organized a wrestling competition in which he took part himself. He won several bouts in these competitions and handed over the prize money to his professor and persuaded him to use the money to buy back his house.
In 1955, he joined the police force as a sub-inspector where he won several competitions held within the Police department and also performed National duties as a sports instructor. Despite serving the police department for twenty-seven years and retiring as an Asst. Police Commissioner, Jadhav had to fight for pension later on in his life. For years, he was neglected by the sports federation and had to live the final stages of his life in poverty. He died in a road accident in 1984.
Although he did receive recognition in the form of awards, with Arjuna Award in 2001 being the most prominent, KD Jadhav was a forgotten name for almost half a century. For someone whose achievement could not be broken for almost 50 years until Leander Paes won the bronze in 1996, KD Jadhav is a legendary sportsman in India’s history who deserved much better treatment than what he actually got and thus should should be engraved in our hearts and souls.
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