Remembering KD Jadhav – India’s first individual Olympic medalist

– Boria Majumdar

Today is KD Jadhav’s 97th birth anniversary. India’s first individual Olympic medalist. Here’s looking back and remembering the legend. For a country that’s struggled for Olympic medals, the first will always be special.

In twenty eight years of competition from 1924, India did not win an individual medal until KD Jadhav got independent India on the board in freestyle wrestling at the 1952 Helsinki Games. But Jadhav’s bronze did not make it to the first page of most leading newspapers in India.

The celebrations were muted and restricted to the sports pages, then considered less significant. Only the men from his native village, who escorted him with a cavalcade of over 150 cows, gave him a reception to remember on his return from Helsinki. This explains why he had to wait until 2001 to receive the Arjuna award, posthumously, for lifetime contribution to Indian sport.

At Helsinki, Jadhav started the competition in terrific form, winning all his early bouts. He was assured of a medal even before he fought his last two fights on 22 July. However Jadhav lost both of his last two fights. This is how the Times of India celebrated his achievement: ‘History was created here today when India, who has been competing in the Olympic Games since 1924, gained a place in the individual honours list for the first time through KD Jadhav, the bantamweight wrestler, who won a bronze medal. Although Jadhav was today beaten by Russia’s Roshind Mahmed Bekov (gold medal) and Japan’s Shihii in a points decision (silver medal) he gained his place with a series of brilliant bouts…’

What made Jadhav’s performance all the more significant was that the rules at international contests were different from the rules followed in India. While Indian wrestlers were used to winning by putting their opponents flat on their backs, international rules specified that the opponent had to be pinned for two seconds on the canvas with their shoulders touching the mat before a fall verdict could be declared.

Jadhav had learnt of this rule in London four years earlier when Reese Garder, the US lightweight champion, who had trained the Indian wrestlers for a week before the Games, coached him. In London, Jadhav had finished sixth in a field of 42. He remained the Lone Ranger till Leander Paes won a bronze at Atlanta in 1996. This time however the medal was celebrated nationally.

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