In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, she lifted the drooping spirits of not just the Indian contingent there but also those of everyone back home.
Few in her sleepy village of Voosavanipeta in Andhra Pradesh or anywhere else in India for that matter would have dreamt of weightlifter Karnam Malleswari being India’s lone medallist in the 2000 Sydney Olympics – bronze in the 69kg category, with an effort of 110kg in snatch and 130kg in clean and jerk (240kg).
Only China’s Lin Weining (gold) and Hungary’s Erzsebet Markus (silver) were better on the day.
The ‘Iron Lady’, as she was referred to then, later regretted her decision to go for 137.5kg in her third attempt in clean jerk. But for that wrong lift, she might have won gold.Stunning display
That does not detract, however, from a stunning achievement, which saw her become the first woman from India to win an Olympic medal.
To those following her career, Malleswari’s bronze was not a major surprise, given her grit and the fact that she had won two gold and two silver medals in the World championships and a few gold medals at the Asian level.
But the weightlifter’s brilliant performance in Sydney was a tribute to her efficacy. The way she shouldered the entire nation’s hopes is still fresh in memory.
The spectacular show by the then 25-year-old, five years after she won her second Worlds gold, triggered a revolution of sorts, especially amongst girls across the country. Her inspirational journey at the highest level gave a new face and direction to Indian women in sport.
It was a story of triumphing against the odds, a rustic Indian girl unaware of the quality of equipment needed or the level of competition she would face when she began her career at 12, under the tutelage of coach Neelamshetty Appanna, in a thatched shed in her village
By any yardstick, Malleswari’s fabulous feat in Sydney remains one of the most memorable chapters in India’s sporting history.