Karnam Malleswari – The Untold Story of First Indian Woman to Win an Olympic Medal

Weightlifter Karnam Malleswari of Andhra Pradesh became the first Indian woman to win a medal (individual/team) at the Olympic games by winning a bronze medal at Sydney Olympics. She achieved this unbelievable feat in the year 2000 at Sydney, Australia, where she lifted 110kg in the snatch and 130 kg in the clean and jerk for a total lift of 240 kg. By her incredible achievement, she lifted the sagging spirits of not just the Indian contingent which had accompanied her at Sydney but also those of everyone back home. This amazing lady had made every Indian chest swell with pride. But sadly, 17 years after she became India’s first female to win a medal at Olympics, she is hardly remembered by either the sporting fraternity or the sports lovers of India.

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Karnam Malleswari’s Family Background

Karnam Malleswari was born on 1st of June 1975 in Amadalavalasa, Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh. Malleswari has four sisters, all trained in weightlifting. In the year 1997, Malleswari got married to Rajesh Tyagi, a fellow weightlifter and the couple was blessed with a baby boy in the year 2001. The sudden death of Karnam’s father made her withdraw from competing in 2002 Commonwealth Games, and she retired after an unsuccessful attempt to win the second medal for the country at the 2004 Olympics.

The feat achieved by Karnam was much applauded and was celebrated widely among all the sections of the nation transcending regional boundaries that often limits us as a country. This victory was different; this victory brought glory not only to one region or a particular class of people but to every section of the society. This victory was merely not against the competitors but was also against all those detractors and that section of society who looked down upon her for taking up sports as her career and that too for specifically choosing weight lifting as her area of interest. The victory of Karnam was a tight slap on all those people who thought she would never win as weight lifting was a ‘Masculine’ sport.

True to her name ‘Karnam’ which in Sanskrit stands for Pride, Dignity, and Fame, India’s Weightlifting champion proved that if a woman desired, she could become physically as strong or even stronger than men.


The twist in the tail

According to Karnam, she was all set to win the first ever gold medal by an Indian woman at the Olympics, but luck and her coaches let her down. She says it was the miscalculation on the part of her coach that made her lift a weight of 137.5 kg rather than going for 132.5 kg which would have easily made her win the most prized medal. She also adds that even though she had earlier practiced lifting the weight of 137.5 kg, it was sheer bad luck that she was not able to repeat it when it was needed. She continues to maintain that miscalculation and not being able to pull off lifting that amount of weight made her lose Gold medal which according to her was within her grasp.


  • She won the world title in the 54 kg division in 1994 and 1995 in Istanbul and Guangzhou.
  • She won the bronze medal in the 54 kg division in 1993 and 1996 in Melbourne and Guangzhou.
  • Karnam also won a silver medal at the Asian games held in Bangkok in the year 1998.
  • Malleswari won a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics held in Sydney, becoming the first woman in India’s history to win an Olympic medal.

Awards and Accolades

  • Karnam Malleswari was awarded India’s highest sporting award – Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in the year 1995.
  • She was awarded the Arjuna Award in the year 1994
  • She was also awarded Padma Shri in the year 1999 for her major contribution in the field of weightlifting.

Karnam Malleswari is an epitome of inspiration for the simple reason that she did not let the social conditioning prevent her from chasing her dreams and for the dedication she has shown and sacrifices she has made to reach to the top spot which was left vacant until she announced her entry into world of sports and for boldly speaking against the shortcomings in the process of selection of players. We salute this lady for the passion she has for sports and for her unwavering determination to prepare the next champion who will carry on the legacy left behind by her.




  1. g.himaja reddy July 24, 2017
    • unnikrishnan June 9, 2018

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