Overcoming all the odds, at a time when athletics was in its early days in the country, PD Chaugule became the first Indian to run the marathon at the Olympics
Long-distance running is one of the ultimate tests of an athlete’s mental strength and stamina.
But overcoming all the odds, at a time when athletics was in its early days in the country, Phadeppa Dareppa Chaugule or PD Chaugule became the first Indian marathoner to represent India at the Olympics.
Six athletes represented the Indian contingent at the 1920 Antwerp Summer Olympics and Chaugule was one of them. He became the first Indian athlete to participate at the Olympics in the marathon event. He finished a respectable 19th, clocking a time of 2 hours 50 minutes 45.2 seconds .
His run, however, was not easy in any way. So who is this forgotten legend?
Chaugule was born in the early 1900s, to a family in Belgaum in Karnataka who ran a printing press and had agricultural lands. He studied in vernacular (Marathi) medium school till the sixth grade at his birthplace before moving to the Bombay Province.
With Akhadas (arenas) popping up everywhere, wrestling was highly popular in rural India at that point in time and Chaugule was very interested in it during his childhood. He enjoyed the sport early and seemingly looked to make a career in the sport before facing a setback that forced him out of wrestling.
While taking part in one of the bouts, in a local a khada, Chaugule suffered an injury and couldn't continue wrestling further.
However, the sportsman in Chaugule was not downcast and he switched to athletics after recovering from the injury.
Chaugule was a strict disciplinarian. He was vegetarian and maintained his diet even when he traveled to England and Belgium.
His daily routine included 2000 push-ups and 2000 sit-ups, and he used to run bare feet every day from Belgaum to Khanapur (to the farms) and back, a total of almost 58 kms!
Chaugule created a benchmark for fitness early in his career. He used to participate in the National Marathon organized by the Deccan Gymkhana Club of Pune and other long-distance running competitions, such as 10 Miles and 1 Mile events at the All-India Open Amateur Athletic Sports Meet in Mumbai.
His domination across all these events made him one of the most illustrious athletes during that era. And then his participation in the Antwerp Summer Olympics only went on to add to his stature.
Chaugule’s Olympic dream came to fruition after he managed to impress Dorabji Tata in the marathon event organised by the Deccan Gymkhana in Pune in 1919. Tata then went on to include Chaugule in the six-member contingent that would represent India at the 1920 Olympics.
This is where Chaugule’s mental strength came to the fore. Three days before the marathon event, Chaugule participated in the heats of the 10000m event, where it was reputed that a spectator fired a pistol in his vicinity, causing a shocked Chaugule to forfeit the race.
Three days after, he gathered enough courage to participate in the marathon and finished 19th in a rain-hit event, showing incredible courage.
His career as a marathoner brought him recognition as he was awarded the title ‘Pavananjaya’ – The Conquerer of the Wind - by the Belgaum citizens on 7th December 1919. He was recognized for his achievements at the National level, a year before his participation at the Olympics.
He was the first Olympian from Karnataka and his house was thereafter named as Pavananjaya.
Chaugule breathed his last in 1958. Years after his demise, in 2003, a postal cover was released to honour him.