The date was September 19, 2000. Legendary weightlifter Karnam Malleswari became the first Indian woman to win a medal at the Olympics. 18 years on, her Olympic record is yet to be broken. It was yet another Olympic campaign for the country, which saw unlucky attempts in 1992, 1988 and 1984. Who knew the year 2000 will bring us so much joy, this was a different Olympic for India, a special moment that had not happened in the history of the Asian nation’s 100 years of Olympic participation. That day, Malleswari lifted the 130 kg weight in clean and jerk. With this feat she also ended a drought from India’s sporting culture, becoming the country’s ‘Iron Lady’.

In the Sydney Olympics 2000, she won bronze in 69kg category, she not only became the first Indian women to ever win an Olympic medal (individual or in a team) in weightlifting, but also uplifted the status quo of Indian women in the global extravaganza.

In the Sydney Olympics 2000, she won bronze in 69kg category, she not only became the first Indian women to ever win an Olympic medal (individual or in a team) in weightlifting, but also uplifted the status quo of Indian women in the global extravaganza.

Malleswari won the Bronze medal in the 54 kg division after lifting a total lift of 177.5 kg at the 1993 championships in Melbourne, Australia. Since then, the medals haul came in from three consecutive world championships.

Many of her other gold came from Istanbul World Championship (1994, earned the first Gold medal for India) and Asian Championships (54-kg category) at Pusan, Korea (1995). In World Weightlifting Championship at Guangzhou (China) in 1995, Malleswari created a new world record by winning three gold medals in 54-kg category. She was awarded ‘Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award’ in 1994-95.

Former Olympic medallist weightlifter Malleswari, 43, now runs her own foundation in Haryana.

Malleshwari is known as the “iron lady of Andhra Pradesh”

Early Life

Born in a small village of Andhra Pradesh called Srikakulamn, Malleswari did not have much luxury to practice weightlifting in her village. So, she would walk to a nearby gymnasium from her home at the tender age of 12. Her younger sister Krishna Kumari is also a national level weightlifter. Her father, Manohar, was a constable in the Railway Protection Force. He was also a volleyball and football player.

Her mother, Shyamla, was the reason Malleswari came into the sport as she pushed four of their five daughters to take up weightlifting after watching her uncle’s son practice. Soon, Malleswari dropped out of school as she was always practicing weightlifting. With no schooling, she steadily progressed in the gym.

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Eventually, she started participating at various state and national level competitions and Shyamla would accompany her with all the necessary household needs to serve her daughter with a hot and nutritional meal.

Interestingly, the efforts paid off as Malleswari received her first professional coach in the face of Neelam Shetty Appanna and it was her turn to perform wonder in the national championships.

Later on, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) spotted her rare talent and in 1990, she was included in the national camp. It was not foreseen but four years later she won the World Championship in the 54kg class.

The Rise Of The Star

She kicked off her glorious career in the year 1991 when a 16-year-old Malleswari won silver at the 1991 Senior Nationals held in Ambala. The result was a big boost and in the year 1993, she clinched the bronze in the 54 kg category at the World Championships in Melbourne. The following year, she became a World Champion, clinching the gold at the 1994 World Championships in Istanbul. In the process, she also became the first Indian women to win a gold at the stage. Later, that year, she also claimed the silver medal at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima.

Next year, in 1995, she again won the gold in the 54 kg at the 1995 World Championships in Guangzhou. In 1996, she had to settle for a bronze.

By the time she prepared for Olympics, she had won 29 International medals, of which 11 were gold.

By the time she prepared for Olympics, she had won 29 International medals, of which 11 were gold.

Malleshwari was trained by coach Leonid Taranenko, a renowned weightlifter, who holds a number of world records. She married a weightlifter named Rajesh Tyagi.

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Olympics And Glory

When Malleswari walked towards the stage she was just 25 years old. She had steadily made her way into the finals and had performed resiliently, lifting 105 kg, 107.5 kg and 110 kg in the snatch event and 125 kg and 130 kg in the Clean & Jerk event. And, then the finishing score read clearly: Malleswari lifted the metal weighing 137.5 kg to win India’s first individual gold, both among women and men alike.

Retirement Suits Her

She gave birth to a son in 2001. She decided not to participate in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, due to the death of her father. Later, she had an unsuccessful 2004 Athen Olympics. She soon announced her retirement, and forever remembered as the Iron Lady of India.

She Was Felicitated With Honorary Awards Such As:

  • Arjuna Award (1994-95)
  • Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award (1995-96)
  • Padma Shri (1999)

Her achievement shone in 2000, India hasn’t got any medals in weightlifting at the Olympics since then.

Image: STP

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