Google Doodle celebrates Indian wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav

Google Doodle on Sunday celebrated the 97th birthday of Indian wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav. Khashaba became independent India’s first individual athlete to win an Olympic medal at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.

Khashaba Dadasheb Jadhav was born on this day in 1926, in the village of Goleshwar in Maharashtra.

After shining as a swimmer and runner, 10-year-old Jadhav started training as a wrestler with his father. 

Although Jadhav only grew to 5’5”, his skillful approach and light feet made him one of the best wrestlers at his high school. With further coaching from his father and professional wrestlers, Jadhav won multiple state and national titles.

He was especially great at dhak—a wrestling move where he held his opponent in a headlock before throwing him to the ground. Jadhav’s continued success earned the attention of the Maharaj of Kolhapur, during the 1940s. After he dominated an event at the Raja Ram college, the Maharaj of Kolhapur decided to fund his participation in the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Jadhav wasn’t used to international wrestling rules and rarely wrestled on regulation mats.

The Olympics pitted him against the best and most-experienced flyweight wrestlers in the world. Despite this, he managed to place 6th, the highest-ever finish for an Indian wrestler at the time.

Unsatisfied with his performance, Jadhav spent the next four years training harder than ever before. He moved up a weight class to bantamweight, which featured even more international wrestlers. At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Jadhav defeated wrestlers from Germany, Mexico, and Canada before losing to the eventual champion. He earned a bronze medal, becoming the first medal winner from independent India. Crowds awaited his return home and a parade of bullock carts carried him through his hometown village.

Jadhav injured his knee before the next Olympics, which ended his wrestling career. He later worked as a police officer. The Maharashtra Government posthumously awarded him the Chhatrapati Puraskar in 1992-1993. The wrestling venue built for the 20210 Delhi Commonwealth Games was named in his honor.