The Buried “Pocket Dynamo”
When one mentions The Olympic House, you think of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland. 6915 Kilometres away tucked away in the town of Kharad lies its namesake, Olympic Nivas – home to Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, a stellar and patriotic sportsman receiving independent India’s first Olympic medal.
Born in Goleshwar, a District of Satara in Maharashtra, KD Jadhav grew up in a household that lived and breathed wrestling. Khashaba’s father, Dadasaheb Jadhav - a renowned wrestler, introduced him to the sport at the tender age of five. He poured his heart and soul into the sport and “would never miss any wrestling event anywhere,” his childhood friend Rajarao Deodekar.
As he rose up the ranks in discipline, his scrawny physique shocked many as he dwarfed the bulkiest wrestlers along the way. Since he could not overcome his opponents with sheer power, he excelled at something known as Dhak – where a wrestler holds his opponent in a headlock and flings him to the ground.
His mentors, Baburao Balawde and Belapuri Guruji, also highly honored wrestlers in the society prepared and trained him for state and national level championships during college.
KD Jadhav got his first taste of the Olympics in London, where he placed sixth, an impressive achievement for someone combating on a wrestling mat for the very first time. Dissatisfied, he started to train with more vigor and zeal.
KD Jadhav was originally not selected in the Indian contingent for the Helsinki 1952 Olympics. Even though he defeated the national flyweight champion, Niranjan Das, twice, the authorities neglected him causing him to write to the Maharaja of Patiala, who organized a third match between the two. Khashaba pinned him down with ease for the third time and marched his way forward to fulfill his dream.
However, this wasn’t the end of his hardships. He went from pillar-to-post trying to fund his stay at Helsinki. The majority came from his former principal, who mortgaged his own house to help him while the villagers contributed small amounts. KD Jadhav’s unyielding perseverance saw him beat many at the international level – Canadian Adrien Poliquin and Leonardo Batsuro of Mexico.
In the Semi-finals, according to the regulations, Jadhav should have been given 30 minutes to rest before his next opponent, Russia’s Rashid Mammadbeyov. Due to the lack of an Indian official at Helsinki, Jadhav didn’t get the time leading to a defeat by stark exhaustion. However, he had secured a bronze medal at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, more than a reward for four long years of determination and hard work. On returning, he was felicitated by his fellow villagers through a bullock-cart procession from Kharad to Goleshwar. The Village also paid homage to him by putting inspirational posters of him on school walls and erecting a memorial celebrating his achievements.
Khasab was not only a remarkable wrestler but also a faithful civil servant. He joined the Maharashtra police in 1955 as a sub-inspector while hoping to travel to the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 but a serious knee injury ended his journey. He persistently rose through the ranks of the Maharashtra police and retired as an Assistant Commissioner in 1983. He also played a role in the Quit India Movement by providing shelter to the revolutionaries and participants.
The hero who created history and gave India its first individual Olympic medal sadly spent his last years in poverty and was not lauded with any government honors. It is heart-breaking to see that Jadhav’s family had considered auctioning his Olympic Bronze Medal, which is a national treasure, to try and realize his dream of setting up an academy that could produce more medallists for the country. He inspired a generation of wrestlers through his diligence and brought a proud identity to his prodigy. In spite of the lack of material and official awards, Jadhav was a true sportsman in his words “I would like to be reborn as a wrestler — the sport had given me some of the best moments in my life.”