The first person to bring Olympic glory to India in the individual category in the sport of wrestling – a sport with a legacy in the Marathi culture
The first Indian to write India’s name in the individual category in the Olympics, wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav alias K. D. Jadhav was born in Goleshwar village, a small village on the banks of the Krishna River in Karad taluka.
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.
In those times, sports was not commercialised, and the concept of sponsors did not exist. Sports administration and professionalism were unknown in the country. Therefore he had to overcome several obstacles to participate in the Olympics at his own expense. He collected the required funds through contributions from friends, teachers, students of his alma mater, people of his village and from the erstwhile Chhatrapati of Kolhapur. He even personally visited people collecting funds for his participation in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. Even the then Government did not extend any support to Khashaba in 1952. Khashaba overcame these trying times - preparing for the foreign trip, collecting funds, winning over those who opposed his visit, practicing his techniques on the mat – to participate in the Olympics.
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.
Instead of being discouraged by his sixth place in the London Olympics, he increased the tempo of his preparation for the next Olympics in Helsinki. Khashaba participated in the 125 lb bantamweight category which saw wrestlers from twenty-four countries. Defeating the wrestlers from Canada, Mexico and Germany, he won bronze medal on 23rd July 1952 thereby creating history by becoming the country’s first individual medal winner (Another wrestler and Khashaba’s colleague, Krishnarao Mangave, also participated in the same Olympics in another category but missed the bronze medal by just one point).
The people of Goleshwar, Karad and Kolhapur accorded him a warm welcome on his return in August of 1952. There was a cavalcade in a vehicle drawn by 101 bulls from Karad to Goleshwar. He was even felicitated by Rajaram College and all the wrestling gymkhanas in Kolhapur
Prof. Dabholkar of Shahaji Law College, Kolhapur had mortgaged his house to fund Khashaba’s participation in the Olympics. Khashaba had not forgotten this favour and on his return organized wrestling competitions in which he participated. He won several bouts in these competitions and consequently prize money. He then persuaded the Prof to use the money to buy back the house. This episode not only highlights the erstwhile circumstances but also highlights the high standards of sincerity, co-operation and commitment to the sport.
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 later viz. the Fie Foundation Jeevan Gaurav Award (in 1983), the Meghnath Nageshwar Award (in 1990, posthumously), the Shiv Chhatrapati Award (in 1993, posthumously) and 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. A wrestling gymkhana has also been established in the village of Goleshwar to continue his legacy.
He died in an accident in Karad. 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
Source: “Olympic Veer K.D. Jadhav” by Sanjay Sudhane published by National Book Trust, India.