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Blast from the Past: When India made a breakthrough with its weightlifting champion in the Olympics

Karnam Malleswari clinched a bronze medal and became the first Indian woman to win a medal at the grandest stage of them all.

 Born at Srikakulam, a small village in Andhra Pradesh, Malleswari began weightlifting at the age of 12

Weightlifting is one of those few sports in the Summer Olympic Games which haven't seen much from the soils of India.

But after Karnam Malleswari became the torch bearer of woman power in Sydney 2000, every sporting family in our nation looked at their daughters in a whole new light of radiance and more importantly, hope.

With amazing techniques and expertise, she successfully clinched a bronze medal and became the first Indian woman to win a medal in the grandest stage of them all.In 1995, she created the new world record in her 54-kg category after lifting 113 kg in the clean and jerk and winning the World Weightlifting title. Andhra Pradesh's 20-year-old sensation beat the previous record of 112.5 kg set by China's Long Yuling.

She followed it up by winning 1995 Asian Championship and clinching India's first medal in this sport at the 1998 Asian Games.

Two years later women's wrestling made its Olympic debut in Sydney. We had three top weightlifters to fill up the two slots. Malleswari was the obvious choice because of her performance. Sanamacha Chanu was the second one which meant the seasoned Kunjarani Devi was left out of the squad.

She lifted a career-best of overall 240 kg to bag the bronze medal in the women's 69 kg category, finishing just behind winner Lin Weining of China and Hungary's Erzsebet Markus. She narrowly missed the mark by a small margin of 2.5 kg after lifting 110 kg in snatch and 130kg in clean and jerk.

(L-R) Erzsebet Markus, Lin Weining, and Karnam Malleswari

While Lin Weining lifted 107.5 kg and 110 kg in the first two attempts, she failed in her third attempt at 112.5 kg. In the clean and jerk round, she started off with 132.5 kg but failed in the two attempts, thus finishing with a total of 242.5 kg which was enough to give her a gold medal.

Erzsebet Markus, on the other hand, began with 105 kg but increased her weights in the next two attempts. 125 kg and 130 kg in the clean and jerk category ensured the Hungarian a silver medal finish.

The 'Iron Girl' of Indian weightlifting began with a safe 105 kg and followed it up with  107.5 kg and 110 kg in her next two attempts. In the clean and jerk, she lifted 125 kg and then matched Erzsebet's score in the second attempt.

In the third attempt, she failed to lift a 137.5 kg weight and eventually had to settle for a bronze because of a small mistake. Had she gone for a 135 kg, she might have still finished above the two.

Watch for yourself how she gained respect for the tricolour in foreign land:

What adds a cherry on top of the cake is the fact that there was criticism when Kunjarani Devi was left out. Malleswari's bronze repaid the faith of the Weightlifting Federation of India. Leonid Taranenko of Bulgaria, a former Olympian was the coach of the Indian team had predicted her success a month before the Games.

Despite the stumble, Malleswari realized the dreams of a billion people. Not only did she become the first woman from India to win an Olympic medal, but also the third individual medal winner since we started taking part in the biggest sporting extravaganza of the world.

Her achievement is a unique achievement and her triumph is an inspiration to Indian women

The nine-time National Champion has won eleven gold medals besides grabbing the prestigious Olympic bronze in her career. Apart from that, she has been bestowed with some of the highest honours in India - the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, Arjuna Award, and Padma Shri.

Also Read: Rio Olympics 2016: India earn two quota berths in weightlifting

We can count the number of Indians who have won individual medals at the Olympics on your fingers. Being the first woman from India to win a medal, Karnam Malleswari proved that if a woman desired, she could become physically as strong – or even stronger than men.

Her choice of sport was odd, but she had enough determination to come out as a winner. Besides the inner movements to gain women empowerment, India made an actual breakthrough with its weightlifting daughter in the Olympics . 

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