HomeAthletesBiographiesKarnam Malleswari Biography: How India's Iron Lady Rose to Become a Weightlifting...

Karnam Malleswari Biography: How India’s Iron Lady Rose to Become a Weightlifting Legend

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The date was 19 September 2000. The place, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre. India was again on the brink of witnessing another Olympic campaign pass by without winning a single medal. The country had faced a similar fate (and embarrassment) in 1992, 1988 and 1984. Then, not even their famed dominance in hockey could give them a medal. But this was going to be a different Olympic for India. A thing that had not happened in the Asian nation’s 100 years of Olympic participation history was to perspire. That day, Karnam Malleswari not only lifted the famous 130 kg weight, she also lifted a veil off India’s sporting ecosystem, ushering the country into a new era.

She not only became the first Indian women to ever win an Olympic medal (individual or in a team), she also started off a trend which saw four Indian women win medals in the global extravaganza.


Full NameKarnam Malleswari
Nick NameIron Lady
HometownAmadalavalasa, Andhra Pradesh
Height5 ft 4 in (1.63m)
Age43 years (as of 2018)
Weight Category54 kg, 63 kg, 69 kg
CoachLeonid Taranenko


Early Life – Top Notch Parental Support Produces Top Notch Athletes

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A young Malleswari practicing weightlifting (Credit India.com)
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Karnam Malleswari was born in a small AP village of Voosavanipeta. The place was a part of a small town, Amadalavalasa. Her mother pushed four of their five daughters to take up weightlifting after watching her uncle’s son practice. She also believed that weightlifting would help make their daughters strong. In fact, her husband, Manohar, got a job at the Railway Protection Force because of sports – he was good at volleyball and football.

Receiving strong support from her parents, she decided to pursue her career in weightlifting at a tender age. She would train with her sisters with improvised weights. Her mother, Shyamla, would tie household weights on bamboo sticks for her daughter’s initial training.

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Later on, Manohar got transferred to Amadalavalasa. By that time Malleswari had started to show a genuine inclination towards weightlifting. Watching this, her parents then put her through the weight-training regimen at the Ammi Naidu gym in the district headquarters town of Srikakulam. Soon, the drive towards weightlifting grew so strong that Malleswari dropped out of school when she was 12. With no schooling, she steadily progressed in the gym.

Her mother would save whatever she could from her household budget to full fill all of her daughter’s growing needs for nourishment. In fact, later, when Malleswari would go on to perform at various state and national level Shyamla would accompany her with a kerosene stove to serve her daughter with a hot and nutritional meal.

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Malleswari and her parent’s efforts were to soon bear tangible fruits. She received her first professional coach in the face of Neelam Shetty Appanna and in no time, national championships beckoned the rising youngster.

National Stage – The Rise of the Star

Her career took off in the year 1991 when a 16-year-old Malleswari won a silver at the 1991 Senior Nationals held in Ambala. The result was a big boost for the AP girl and a genuine sign of bigger things to come.

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International Stage – Announcing Her Arrival

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Malleswari competing at an International Event (Credit Pinterest)

In the year 1993, Malleswari snapped the bronze in the 54 kg category at the World Championships in Melbourne. The following year, she became a World Champion, clinching the gold a the 1994 World Championships in Istanbul. In the process, she also became the first Indian women to win a gold at the stage. Later that year, she also claimed the silver medal at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima.

Next year, in 1995, she successfully defended her title by again winning the gold in the 54 kg at the 1995 World Championships in Guangzhou. Later, in 1996, she had a relatively poor display in Guangzhou and had to suffice herself with a bronze.

By the time she prepared for Olympics, she had won 29 International medals, of which 11 were gold.

2000 Sydney Olympics – History Rewritten

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Malleswari at the 2000 Sydney Olympics (Credit: Scroll.in)

The 2000 Olympics was one of hope for India and Malleswari alike. India had sent a 65 member strong contingent, a direct jump of 16 from the 49 athletes that participated at the previous Olympic. As for Malleswari, this was a first real chance to prove her mettle at the biggest stage in the world. Winning mattered even more as, between 1996 and 1999, she had failed to win a single podium finish at World Championships.

On 19 September, 2000, Karnam Malleswari slowly walked towards the weights that awaited her at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Center. The 25-year-old had steadily made her way into the finals. In the finals as well, she had performed resiliently, lifting 105 kg, 107.5 kg and 110 kg in the snatch event and 125 kg and 130 kg in the Clean & Jerk event. These performances had put her in a very strong position to finish at the top of the podium. She was way ahead of her fellow contenders. She only had to successfully lift the metal weighing 137.5 kg that lay in front of her to win India’s first individual gold, both among women and men alike.

Malleswari rubbed the white powder on her hands and briefly meditated, as though praying to god for one last triumph. Laying her hands on the bar, as she tried to lift the weight, she failed and the heavy metal crashed onto the floor. With that broke a billion hearts. Although she had done enough to win a historic bronze, the first by an Indian women, years later, she admitted gold was within her grasp.

According to her, it was due to a miscalculation on the part of her coaches, that she chose a weight of 137.5 kg. Not that she had not lifted a weight of that magnitude, it was only that lifting it was not necessary. A weight of even 132.5 kg would have been sufficient for Malleswari to clinch the yellow metal.

Karnam Malleswari Later Years & Retirement

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Karnam Malleswari at a press release (Credit AKFC)

In the following years, Malleswari became less active in sports. Part of the reason was family commitments, as she gave birth to a son in 2001. She decided not to participate in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, due to the death of her father. Later, she had an unsuccessful 2004 Athen Olympics. She soon announced her retirement.

Without a doubt, if there is one woman on whom a Bollywood biopic should be made, it has to be Karnam Malleswari, the Iron Lady of India.

Karnam Malleswari Family

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Malleswari with mother Shyamla (Credit The Hindu)

Karnam Malleswari was born on 1 June 1975 in Andhra Pradesh’s small village Voosavanipeta to Karnam Manohar and Shyamla. Mr. Manohar was a constable in the Railway Protection Force (RPF).  She has four sisters named Narsamma, Madhavi, Krishna Kumari. Of them, three went into the field of weightlifting along with Malleswari. She also had a brother named Ravindra Kumar. Of them, Krishna Kumari, her younger sister, was a national weightlifting champion. The name ‘Karnam’ literally means pride, dignity and fame in Sanskrit.

Karnam Malleswari got married to fellow weightlifter Rajesh Tyagi in 1997. He was a general secretary of Weightlifting Association. In 2001, Malleswari gave birth to a son, Sharad Chander Tyagi. He is also a sports person like his parents and a rising shooter. He took up 10m rifle shooting in 2015, and also qualified for the national shooting championships, the Gun For Glory championships held at Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, Pune.

Karnam Malleswari Titles

  • Bronze at the 1993 Melbourne World Championships (54 kg)
  • Gold at the 1994 Istanbul World Championships (54 kg)
  • Silver at the 1994 Asian Games at Hiroshima (54 kg)
  • Gold at the 1995 Guangzhou World Championships (54 kg)
  • Bronze at the 1996 Guangzhou World Championships (54 kg)
  • Silver at the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games (63 kg)
  • Bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Weightlifting event (69 kg)
  • National Champion from 1992-1998

Karnam Malleswari Awards

  • Arjuna Award(1994-95)
  • Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award(1995-96)
  • Padma Shri(1999)

Net Worth

An exact figure of Malleswari’s net worth is not known. Please watch this space for further updates.

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Monish Gadiya
Monish Gadiya is the Head of Content at KreedOn. He is a thorough tech-enthusiast and believes that innovation is the answer to all the problems prevalent in the society. Monish graduated from University of Pune with a degree in Civil Engineering before pursuing a post-graduate diploma course in intellectual property rights. A die-hard football fan, he has represented his college at various football competitions.


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