When Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav wrestled his way to the bronze medal in the freestyle (bantamweight, 57kg) category at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, India rejoiced as it was its first individual medal after Independence.
But the ‘Pocket Dynamo’, as he was called, felt it could have been better if there were superior facilities back home and an easy passage.
Jadhav’s first feel of the big stage was at the 1948 London Olympics. During his stay in London, he was trained by Rees Gardner, a former lightweight World champion from the United States. It was Gardner’s guidance that saw the champion wrestler from Goleshwar village in Maharashtra finish sixth in the flyweight section.
The sixth-place finish did a world of good to his confidence. Jadhav, from there, believed that he had the ability to topple the best in the world and, quite rightly, worked hard over the next few years for a trip to Helsinki.Thorny path
However, the path to Helsinki was strewn with thorns. Official apathy coupled with financial woes worried him a lot. But he had the Maharaja of Patiala and a few of his friends and neighbours come to his rescue. The sports-loving Maharaja provided the break for him to qualify for the Olympics which Jadhav used it wisely.
Mr. Khardekar, the Principal of his College (Raja Ram College) further mortgaged his house for Rs.7,000, while the shopkeepers of Karad and his friends arranged for his kit.
This was playing in Jadhav’s mind. He wanted to give something back to everybody who stood by him.
The bantamweight section at Helsinki was loaded with world stars but Jadhav was confident. He sailed through the first five rounds, winning almost every other bout inside five minutes. Then came a strong test in the form of Japan’s Shohachi Ishii.
It was dubbed the big clash. The bout lasted more than 15 minutes. Jadhav, who was new to the mat and the rules, gave his best but lost by a point. Ishii, a judoka-turned-wrestler, went on to win the gold.
After the marathon bout, Jadhav was asked to be back on the mat to fight Soviet Union’s Rashid Mammadbeyov. The rules stipulated a rest of at least 30 minutes between bouts, but no Indian official was available to press his case. And Jadhav, exhausted as he was, failed to inspire and Mammadbeyov cashed in on the chance to reach the final. The former had to rest content with the bronze.
Jadhav was not happy but his well wishers were. They gave him a warm welcome on his return. A procession carried their hero for about 40km and passed through the village of Goleshwar. And that remained etched in his memory till he passed away in a tragic accident in 1984.