September 19, 2000. This historic day was etched in memories forever.
India got its first taste of an Olympic medal in women's sports when Karnam Malleswari broke the deadlock with her bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The moment bore testimony to the rising stature of India's female athletes.
Karnam's colorful exploits came long before her unprecedented feat in Sydney. She underlined her potential with a bronze medal in the 54kg category at the 1993 World Championships. She went on to achieve the unique feat of winning two consecutive World Championship titles in 1994 and 1995. Falling short of a golden hat-trick, she warded off a tough fight to settle for bronze in 1996.
“I feel proud to have created this pathway for our girls and to see them winning Olympic medals. Some even tell me today, ‘Ma’am you started it all’, so I feel delighted to have changed the perception," Karnam Malleswari was quoted as saying.
Karnam Malleswari at the Olympics
With the Sydney Olympics in her sights, Karnam made a prestigious debut in the 63kg division through a silver medal at the 1998 Asian Games. She then followed it with a feat beyond her practice. Karnam made a transition to the 69kg weight category two years before the Olympics.
In what was perceived as a herculean task for her by many, Karnam stood firm, dug into her reservoir and advanced as one of the three finalists in her maiden Olympics.
With both her opponents lifting a total of 242.5kg, Karnam had to aim for 2.5kg more to guarantee a silver medal on bodyweight or opt for an even higher 135kg to finish on top of the podium. Sparing no effort to bag the elusive gold for India, Karnam aimed to break the 137.5kg-barrier in clean and jerk for a record total of 247.5kg (110+137.5) in the event.
However, she failed to flourish, executing only 130kg in the clean and jerk categories to attempt a total of 240kg. Karnam may have missed out on the gold, but her efforts brought the entire nation to its feet.
“I went for gold. I had done 137.5 kg in training. I would have done it in competition also, but it was my misfortune that I couldn't do it. You might have watched it on TV, the lift failed because of a small mistake. You need luck too,” Karnam Malleswari told Sportstar.
After a year-long maternity break, Karnam trained vigorously for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. However, she was forced to pull out following her father's sudden demise. Another misfortune struck her just as Karnam was gunning for her second Olympic appearance. She withdrew from the 2004 Athens Olympics with a severe back injury.
Karnam's achievements have kindled a chain reaction, with many more female athletes now emboldened to defy the barriers that held them back for so long.
Road ahead for Indian weightlifting
The decade gone by has brought about a revolution in Indian weightlifting, which has taken the sport to giant heights. With Karnam as a role model, the conveyor belt of weightlifting talent in the country shows no signs of slowing down.
“I am expecting Mirabai Chanu to perform very well at the Olympics this year. She learned a lot at the last Olympics, and I am sure she will win a medal this year," Karnam Malleswari told IANS.
Both Mirabai and Jeremy chased glory at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in a bid to improve points that would ensure an Olympic quota based on the continental quota. While Jeremy finished eighth in the 67kg event, Mirabai justified her potential by setting a world record in clean and jerk with a lift of 119kg.