KD Jadhav: The First Individual Olympic Medalist From India

In the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Jadhav stunned the audience by defeating opponent after opponent with ease in the first 5 rounds of bantamweight freestyle wrestling. In the sixth round the adept was asked to fight Soviet Union's Rashid Mammadbeyov.

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Winning a medal at the world’s biggest showpiece event “The Olympics” is always a dream of every athlete. Athletes toil for years to give their best at the grandest stage in their respective events. Be it a team or an individual event, Indian athletes have made the nation proud from time to time with their riveting performances. India won its first gold medal as a team in hockey at the Olympics back in 1928 and post-Independence in 1948 as an independent nation.  But what made the country proud was when Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav bagged the first individual medal for India in the form of a bronze in wrestling at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics.  

Popularly known as the “pocket dynamo”, KD Jadhav wrote his name in the history books as undoubtedly the face of modern Indian wrestling. His glory at the Helsinki Olympics revived wrestling commonly known as “Kushti” in parts of Haryana. Till now India has won five medals in the wrestling event at the Olympics comprising 4 bronze medals and one silver medal. Though KD Jadhav’s success at the 1952 Olympics was eclipsed by the Indian Hockey team by winning gold, yet his achievement set up a milestone in the history of Indian sports.

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Early life of the Maestro

KD Jadhav was born on 15 January 1926 in Goleshwar in Karad taluka of District Satara in Maharashtra. He was the youngest among the five sons of his father who was also a renowned wrestler. He completed his high school in Karad district and also participated in the Quit India Movement providing shelter and a hiding place to the revolutionaries, circulating letters against the British were some of his contributions to the movement. 

Being brought up in a family obsessed with wrestling, it was his father Dadasaheb who noticed KD’s talent. To foster his talent, Dadasaheb himself started training KD. Despite having a scrawny personality, no one could outlast KD. Locals used to gather and witness KD knocking out heavy wrestlers with his tactics.  During his college days, while studying at Kolhapur’s Raja Ram college, the maestro continued to represent himself at the state and national level. 

Though College sports fraternity didn’t consider KD Jadhav for wrestling by looking at his physique it was his strong determination that forced the principal to permit him for the game. Like it’s said “don’t judge a book by its cover”, KD Jadhav again left the spectators spellbound as he knocked out bulky wrestlers in the competition. To improve more Jadhav took training from former wrestlers Baburao Balawde and Belapuri Guruji before representing India at the Olympics in 1948 and 1952.

Glory at the Olympics

Jadhav’s first feel of the big stage was at the 1948 London Olympics. His journey was funded by the Maharaja of Kolhapur. During his stay in London, he was trained by Rees Gardner, a former lightweight World champion from the United States. It was Gardner’s guidance that saw Jadhav finish sixth in the flyweight section, despite being unfamiliar with wrestling on the mat. He stunned the audience by defeating the Australian wrestler Bert Harris in the first few minutes of the bout. He went on to defeat Billy Jernigan of the US, but lost to Mansour Raeisi of Iran, to be eliminated from the Games.

“You grow more when you learn from your mistakes”, this is what KD Jadhav did to achieve success. The next Olympics were 4 years away and the veteran made the best use of this time. He trained harder and that too on the mat in order to be familiar with the conditions. A problem that rose for Jadhav was finance. To deal with it, Jadhav pleaded to the Chief minister of Bombay at Morarji Desai. But all he received was a cold snub. Jadhav didn’t lose hope and wrote to the President of Indian Olympic Association at that time Yadivandra Singh. Yadivandra arranged a bout for KD against Niranjan Das. KD again with his talent and skills knocked out Niranjan earning him a ticket to the 1952 olympics.

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The 1952 Helsinki Olympics

It was all worth it. In the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Jadhav stunned the audience by defeating opponent after opponent with ease in the first 5 rounds of bantamweight freestyle wrestling. In the sixth round the adept was asked to fight Soviet Union’s Rashid Mammadbeyov. As per the rules a rest of at least 30 minutes were required between bouts, but no Indian official was available to press his case.

As a result, a tired Jadhav failed to inspire and Mammadbeyov cashed in on the chance to reach the final. Defeating the wrestlers from Canada, Mexico and Germany, he won the bronze medal on 23 July 1952 at the age of 27 thereby creating history by becoming Independent India’s first individual medal winner. Although India’s hockey team bagged a gold at the Helsinki games, Jadhav and his prestigious bronze medal was the primary attraction of India’s contingent that returned home after the Olympics.

Life after the “Glory”

At the age of 30, KD Jadhav suffered an injury keeping him out of the 1956 Summer Olympics at Melbourne. A year ago the Olympic medallist joined the Maharashtra Police as sub-inspector and served for 28 Years. Being a policeman Jadhav won many wrestling bouts at the police games and also trained many in the sport. He retired as assistant commissioner of Police in 1983.

Throughout his life, he received no endorsements, no prizes. He sold his wife’s jewellery so they could build a post retirement home in Satara. 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 lived the final stages of his life in poverty.

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In 1984, a road accident took legendary KD Jadhav away from us forever. In 2010, 29 years after his death, the centre decided to honour the maestro. The centre renamed the Indira Gandhi Wrestling to KD Jadhav stadium as a testament to its legacy. The Maharashtra Government awarded the Chhatrapati Puraskar posthumously in 1992-1993. Also, KD Jadhav was posthumously honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2001.

A Lasting Example

Although Hockey’s gold was celebrated across the nation, Jadhav’s bronze medal was worth more. He paved the way for many other wrestlers to come into this sport and leave their marks of success. And no surprises many Indian wrestlers did so. After hockey it was wrestling that earned most medals for India. It was KD Jadhav’s compassion and never giving up attitude that led him to glory. He has set himself up as an example for many generations to follow in order to reach their dreams.

(Views are personal)

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Sajag has completed his high school and intermediate from CBSE board. Then have completed B.Sc from Christchurch College, Kanpur. Currently pursuing his PG in Mass Communication with specialization in journalism from India Today Media Institute, NOIDA.