she is the Iron Woman of Indian spo­rt. She became the first Indian wo­m­­an to win an Olympic medal wh­en she bagged bronze in the 69kg category in the Sydney Games in 2000. She had earlier won World Championship titles twice — in the 54kg class — in 1994 and 1995.
Born in a remote district of Srikakulam di­strict of Andhra Pradesh, Karnam Mall­e­­s­wari is best remembered for her Sydney Ol­ympics feat although she also broke the world record in the 1995 World Championsh­ips and has three Asian Weightlifting Championship gold medals.
Recalling her bronze-medal winning pe­rformance in Sydney, Malleswari says: “It is a proud achievement. But at the same time, I still regret I could not win the gold medal, which was within my reach. That hurts.”
“I would love to become a coach and help India win a gold medal at the Olympics. Th­at is my biggest dream now,” says Mallesw­ari. Married to Rajesh Tyagi, Malleswari has settled down in Haryana but says she hopes the Andhra Pradesh government will give her the plot of land promised to her after her performance in the Sydney Olympics. If the government keeps its promise, says Ma­­lleswari, she plans to open a sports academy on the plot in Hyderabad.
Excerpts from an interview...
On weightlifting in India
Sadly, it is not the same now. Despite my succe­ss in the Sydney Olympics in 2000, we­ightlifting did not get the necessary impetus to grow further, though it should have. back then, there were many talented youngsters eager to take up the sport but, for reasons unknown, weightlifting was ignored by the authorities and youngsters were not given proper encouragement. It is unfortunate th­at a sport that has given us a medal in the Olympics is unable to bring medals for us even in the Commonwealth and Asian Gam­es. This is mainly due to inadequate facilities and proper guidance. Poor planning and lack of di­r­ection has led to this stage.
On becoming a coach
I have a dream to stage a comeback as a co­a­­ch. I want to fulfil my wish to win a gold me­dal for India in Olympics as a coach through my student — that is a feat I could not achieve during my days as a weightlifter. In fact, it was a close miss in the Sydney Olympics. Somehow, luck was not on my side that day. But I do have the satisfaction of winning an Olympic medal.
On setting up a sports academy in Andhra Pradesh
I have a few plans to open an academy in the state. After the Sydney Olympics, the State Government had announced that they would allot me a land in Hyderabad but somehow it did not happen as I was busy with my training. I did not pursue the matter. As I have retired now, I would request the State government to allot me a plot of land so that I can train young weightlifters. There is not much expenditure required to start an academy. What we require is a hostel for the wards and a gymnasium hall.
On her performances after the Sydney Olympics
After the Sydney Olympics, due to a back injury, I could not get a medal in the next Olympics at Athens. I performed well after the Sydney Games but, because of the back injury, my plans went haywire.
On China’s success in weightlifting
The Chinese sports system is very sound. Their planning is amazing. Even as their first-string weightlifters get ready for the Olympics and other major international events, their second string is already preparing for tournaments a few years down the line. India might have had only one Mallesw­ari, but China has hundreds of Malleswaris. China sends competitors to various events. Meticulous planning is the secret of their success. The weightlifters are supported by good doctors, coaches and dieticians. That is a big difference between our training programme and theirs. Coaching methods here and there might be similar but whatever China does, it does in a systematic way.
On doping in weightlifting
Doping is prevalent in many sports. Many athletes have been caught by tests at international and national meets. Unfortu­na­tely, weightlifting has suffered from pr­ojection of the problem. Associations and coaches concerned should be str­ict rather than playi­ng the blame game. Infi­g­h­ting has led to the im­a­ge of weightlifters in our country being tarnish­ed. As a result, the sport has got a bad name in the media. If you look at other sports, dope offenders are tactfully taken away from media glare. State and nati­o­nal association should work toget­her to punish the culprits. But somet­i­mes, offenders are let off because of political interference and these weightlifters end up testing positive in international meets.
On weightlifting in AP
It is sad that the standard of weightlifting has gone down in Andhra Pradesh. We have talented weightlifters at the district level but we need to tap their talent, hone their skills. Unfortunately, the government is not showing interest in weightlifting. Most of the attention is going to tennis, badminton and other sports. We need to develop infrastructure in villages and set up gyms where talented weightlifters can be provided intensive training under one roof.
* 1992: 3 silver medals at Asian Championships, Thailand
* 1994: gold medal at World Championships, Istanbul
* 1994: silver medal at Asian Games, Hiroshima
* 1995: gold medal at Asian Championships, Busan
* 1995: gold medal at World Championships, Guangzhoul
* 1998: silver medal at Asian Games, Bangkok
* 2000: bronze medal at Olympics, Sydney
* Arjuna Award (1994)
* Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna (1995)
* Padma Shri (1999)