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Karnam Malleswari: The forgotten sports story awaiting the silver screen

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Over the last five years, Indian female athletes have received their long due recognition and support. And this has resulted in helping them reach new heights and bring the country glory of the highest stage. What do all these mavericks; Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Sania Mirza, Dipa Karmakar, and Sakshi Malik have in common? They all consider Karnam Malleswari an inspiration. 

Karnam Malleswari is the first Indian woman to ever win an Olympic medal (bronze). A feat she achieved at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. If there is one biopic that should definitely be made, then it is Malleswari’s. Born in a small village Voosavanipeta in Andhra Pradesh, Malleswari was one of four girls, all of whom trained to become weightlifters. She took up the sport at the age of 12 and trained under the renowned coach Nallamshetty Appanna. To hone her skills, she moved to Delhi where she was spotted by the Sports Authority of India and was moved into the national camp in 1990. In 1993 she won a bronze at the World Championships in the 54kg category and won gold in 1994 and 1995. She again won the bronze in 96, and she had truly announced herself to the world. 

Her next goal was to bring Olympic glory to India. She qualified for the Sydney Olympics and this was a time when just participation was huge for the country. Unlike the Rio 2016 Olympics, there was no media hype. Not much was expected from a girl from rural Andhra Pradesh and, quite frankly, was not very interested either. Out of the forty-two journalists that had traveled to cover the Indian contingent, only four showed up to watch her compete. In fact, two hours before her medal victory, she was mistaken for a tourist. However, Karnam is not one to be disheartened and she put on a show that left its mark on history. She won bronze for India. 

However, this was not the end of her Sydney journey. Karnam needed to lift 132.5kgs to secure gold for India. A mistake by one of the coaches resulted in her attempting to lift 137.5kgs. A feat beyond her practice. A mistake by one of the coaches resulted in her missing the highest individual prize in world sport - the Olympic gold. If it was not for a careless error, it would have been Karnam who would have won the first individual Olympic Gold for India. 

There are whispers and rumors that a biopic on her is in the works. Some claim that Sonakshi Sinha will portray her whilst others say that she will be played by South Indian actress Priyamani. Whoever it is and whenever it is, her story is one that needs to be shared with the world - the girl who carried and literally lifted the weight of a nation into jubilation and paved the way for many other such stories.The bronze, however, was enough to ignite a revolution back home. Girls all over the country had a new role model and some of those girls even went on to win Olympic medals like their idol. Sydney was towards the fag end of her career and one prize was still missing from her cabinet, a Commonwealth Games medal. She was preparing to participate in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester but the loss of her father resulted in her withdrawing from the Games. 

(The author is Country Head – Commercial Banking and in-charge of Sports Vertical, IndusInd Bank)

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Country Head - Commercial Banking and in-charge of Sports Vertical, Indusind Bank Experienced Corporate Banker with 27 years of work experience, of which 25 have been in the banking space. Specialties: • Setting up new businesses (SME banking , Supply Chain Finance, Financial Inclusion,Agri business etc ). Also starting a sports vertical in the bank. • Change management. • Team building. • Extensive client relationship.
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