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No. 8: Khashaba Jadhav wins bronze at Helsinki Olympics

AP Photo

The story till then

Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, one of five sons of a wrestler himself, grew up in Goleshwar village, about 75km north of Kolhapur, a princely state in which wrestling received royal patronage. Jadhav took to the sport at a young age - records argue between eight and ten - and grew into a formidable wrestler in his teens. In 1948 he beat national flyweight champion Niranjan Das of Bengal in Lucknow to earn his ticket to the 1948 London "Austerity" Olympic Games. The Maharaja of Kolhapur financed the trip and Jadhav was to finish sixth. By the time the Helsinki Olympics came around in 1952, the princely state of Kolhapur had been erased and Jadhav had to ask for public donations to pay for his journey to Finland. The public contributed towards his kit and R Khardikar, the principal of Kolhapur's Rajaram College, where Jadhav studied, mortgaged his house for Rs 7000 to send his student to the Games.

The moment
Jadhav, who competed in the flyweight category in London, participated in Helsinki as a bantamweight fighter. There were new rules to deal with - like needing a two-second "pin" of the opponent's shoulders on the floor to be awarded victory. He also needed to get used to the mat, instead of the Indian method of wrestling in mud. Jadhav won each of his first five bouts at the Olympics in less than five minutes. In a bout for a place in the final, eventual gold medallist Ishii Shobachi needed 15 minutes to defeat Jadhav, by a single point.

Though a half-hour break was specified between contests, Jadhav was rushed into his next bout, against the Soviet Union's Rashid Mammadbeyov. There was no Indian official on hand to fight Jadhav's case and, exhausted from the bout against Shobachi, he was defeated easily. Rather than get another shot to take on Shobachi in the final, Jadhav was quickly beaten into the No. 3 spot. No one could deny, though, that it was Jadhav who had earned Indian wrestling its earliest recognition in Olympic history.

The reaction
There is little recorded history about responses to Jadhav's medal, either from the wrestler himself or from the new nation state. History does record, though, that when Jadhav returned to his village, a procession of 151 bullock carts and drummers welcomed him home. His cousin Sampat Rao remembers that day, telling a journalist, "Every villager was basking in that moment of glory. Khashaba bhau brought the small village of Goleshwar, earlier a dot on the map, to the fore. The whole world knew and recognised Goleshwar as the village that gave India its first ever Olympic champion."

Expert view
"One of his peers, Banda Patil, who lived in a neighbouring village, told me that after farm work in the day, Khashaba would take mattresses tied together out into his fields and train on them in the evenings. He was a diamond from the rough and we, his state, his country, left him there. Rather than receive awards after his death, Khashaba should have been the country's first Arjuna Award winner. I tell all my young trainees that KD Jadhav's standard - an Olympic medallist - is the one they need to emulate.
- Kaka Pawar, Indian wrestler and coach

The story since
When Jadhav returned from Helsinki he staged a wrestling tournament to raise money to allow his college principal to buy back the house he had sold to fund Jadhav's trip.

Despite his Olympic success, whose historical resonance continues to grow, his life after Helsinki was a struggle. Jadhav was inducted into the Maharashtra police in 1955 and was to serve as a sub-inspector for 22 years, only promoted six months before retirement. He died in a motorcycle accident in 1984, but awards and recognition came only after his death, because of his family's determination to ensure that their champion was publicly appreciated. Jadhav was to receive two major awards - Maharashtra's highest sporting honour, the Shiv Chhatrapati Award (1994), and the Arjuna Award (2000) - only posthumously. He is the only Indian Olympic medallist not to receive a Padma award. In 2010, the wrestling stadium at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex was named after Jadhav, before the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Recommended reading
Olympic Veer KD Jadhav (Hindi) by Sanjay Sudhane