Over the past few years, the sports fans in India have begun embracing various sports. From the likes of wrestling to archery, and now badminton, Indian sportsmen and women have finally broken the shackles which have confined the growth of other sports, and have persisted for the major part of a century. However, with India being the second most populous country, not all achievements are brought to the attention of the masses. When we go back in time, the condition of the athletes was worse, as it was difficult for the sportsmen to earn a livelihood by excelling in what they did.
Times have changes now and the fans and the sports ministry have started taking initiatives to honour the athletes who exceeded expectations past and present, and have started bringing their contributions to light. In our series of heroes of Indian contact sports (You can find the first, second and third articles here, here and here), today, we look at one of the greatest athletes the country has ever produced.
In a country where pehlwani still remains as one of the most practiced sport in the villages, there have been very few wrestlers who have been able to make an impact at the international level. Although Sushil Kumar has made steady progress to win the bronze and silver medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics respectively, he was only the second Indian wrestler to win a medal at the Olympics. The first Indian to do so was KD Jadhav, who fought an uphill battle at the Madras National Games, where he was awarded fewer points intentionally. Jadhav however fortunately made the cut for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, and that was when he managed to get into the history books.
Olympic glory for KD Jadhav:
KD Jadhav became the first individual medalist of independent India when he won the bronze medal in the bantamweight division at the Helsinki Olympics. He had earlier finished in the 6th position at the 1948 London Olympics, and his unprecedented medal win at the 1952 Olympics resulted in a felicitation by his college and all the wrestling gymkhanas in Kohlapur. In 2010, the newly constructed wrestling facility for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi was named after KD Jadhav to honour his memory, and recognize his accomplishments.
He would later join the police force, but during the final years of his life, he lived in poverty, as his contributions were neglected by the Indian Sports Federation, which was a grim reminder of the state of athletes in India. KD Jadhav tragically passed away in 1984, and his wife could not get any monetary assistance after his passing. It took nearly a decade after his demise for the government to honour his achievements, as he was awarded the Chhatrapati Puraskar posthumously by the Maharashtra government in 1992 – 93, and it took the Indian government over half a century after his exploits at the 1952 Olympics to award KD Jadhav with the prestigious Arjuna Award.
While the injustice may still rankle, this post is our small homage to the first Olympic medallist of independent India. Rest in peace, KD Jadhav !