Some epic moments are etched so vividly in our minds that we can remember the picture-perfect vibe of that historic moment. Be it the backward running catch of Viv Richards by Kapil Pajji in 1983 or the thunderous words of Ravi Shastri, “in the air Sreesanth takes it. India wins, India the world champions” or the gigantic throw by Niraj Chopra in the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Today we have a rich legacy of World-class athletes. But it was the legendary weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari who cemented India’s flag at the World podium. Let’s celebrate her memorable achievements on her Birthday.
Her inspirational journey from feeble girl to a Weightlifter
Nobody had known that Karnam Malleshwari, the girl from the small town of Voosavanipeta in Andhra Pradesh would make India proud at the greatest event of sports, that is, the Olympics. Her journey is a truly inspirational one. Malleshwari at one time was rejected by the local gymnasium coach Neelamshetty Appanna as she was deemed to be too thin and weak for weightlifting. But as they say, with determination, and perseverance coupled with the moral support of the family she overcame this hurdle in no time.
At a weightlifting event (which she went as a visitor to accompany her sister Krishna Kumari who was shortlisted for the camp) Karnam impressed the Olympian and World Champion Leonid Taranenko with her keen observations and poise. After a few drills at his request, he soon realised the enormous talent Karnam possessed. The Olympian Taranenko saw a World Champion in her and recommended her to the Bangalore Sports Institute from where she never once looked back.
Karnam Malleshwari showed the power of Indian Women on the World stage
That feeble girl, Karnam Malleshwari soon became the tallest name in Women’s weightlifting and dominated four back to back World Championships. She won the Gold in 1994, and 1995 and bronze in 1993 and 1996. But as they say, her best was about to come when the Olympic Association for the first time introduced Women Weightlifting in the 2000 Summer Olympics held in Sydney, Australia.
The audience saw a close match between the top 3 – Hungary’s Markus, China’s Lin and Karnam Malleshwari, for the podium. Just for a reminder, weightlifting includes two different categories – ‘Snatch’ and ‘Clean & Jerk’. The Champion is decided by the cumulative weights lifted by the athletes. The competition was neck to neck and all the three athletes in the 69 Kg weight class lifted 110 Kg each in the ‘Snatch’ category. In the ‘Clean and Jerk’ category, the event went to the wire. She wanted to register a mammoth gap from her competitor duo. Instead of 132.5 Kg she went for 137 Kg but missed it by a whisker and had to settle for the Bronze with a cumulative weight of 240 Kg.
With this historic feat, Karnam Malleshwari became the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal. These achievements became the springboard on which more Indian Women brought laurels for India. This motivation brought India world-class athletes in weightlifting like Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, Golfer Aditi Singh, Shooter Abhinav Bindra, Gymnast Deepa Karmakar, Ace Shuttlers Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu.
While proudly remembering this feat Karnam said, “I feel proud to have created this pathway for our girls and to see them winning Olympic medals. Some even tell me today, ‘ Ma’am you started it all’, so I feel delighted to have changed the perception.”
Indian parents usually do not encourage their children towards sports. They resort to saying, “padhoge likhoge to banoge nawab, kheloge kudoge to banoge kharab”. (Roughly translated as – You will become Noble men if you study but with sports, you will be ruined). Karnam Malleshwari’s achievements on the grand stage did wonders for India at the Olympics and planted the seeds of growth for the future generation of athletes.
So, on behalf of team TFI, we wish the legend a Happy Birthday and hope that she will keep guiding and inspiring us.