The Life and Times of Former Weightlifting Olympian Karnam Malleswari

10 months ago / by Melanie Fourie
Karnam Malleswari
Retired Indian weightlifting medallist, Karnam Malleswari. 

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

The first Indian woman to clinch an Olympic medal in weightlifting was Karnam Malleswari. The Sydney 2000 Olympics were the pinnacle of her career. It was there were she became the first  woman in her country to acquire an Olympic bronze medal after hoisting 240 pounds in the’snatch’ and ‘clean and jerk’ divisions.

Admirers nicknamed her “The Iron Lady” because of her unprecedented accomplishment. She is the only woman weightlifter from India to have earned an Olympic medal thus far, and has since retired from actively participating. We’ve compiled her inspiring story, inspired by here. 

Early Years and Career Advancement

Karnam Malleswari was born on 1 June 1975. When she was 12 years old, she started practicing in the profession at her hometown of Voosavanipeta, Andhra Pradesh. In the wake of realizing she had the potential to be a world-class athlete, Malleshwari re-located to Delhi, where her married sister lived.

Success was on the way in no time. Karnam Malleswari finished third in the 1993 World Championships before going on to win back-to-back 54kg medals in 1994 and 1995 before finishing third again in 1996.
Karnam Malleswari came so close to winning gold in the Asian Games in 1994 and 1998 that she had to accept silver both times.

After the Olympics in Sydney, she was riding high on triumph. Despite winning bronze medal, Karnam Malleswari had conflicting emotions. When the Indian camp proposed that she lift more weight than she required to win the gold medal, she believed she had lost out on a gold medal.

Malleswari had hoped to return in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Those ambitions, however, were thwarted by the untimely death of her father. She attempted a comeback in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, but the results were disappointing and she decided to retire. She also received a number of acclaimed honours, including the Arjuna Award (1994),  and the Padma Shri (1999).

Family Life and Current Endeavours

After marrying fellow Indian weightlifter Rajesh Tyagi in 1997, Karnam Malleswari and her spouse were blessed with a child, who was born in 2001.

The Food Corporation of India employs her as a manager and she now resides in Haryana.
In addition, Karnam Malleswari established the Karnam Malleswari Foundation, a pioneering powerlifting and weightlifting school in India, in an attempt to see her favourite sport develop there.


When did Karnam Malleswari start her career?

At the age of 12, Malleswari began training with instructor Neelamshetty Appanna.