The 1st Indian Woman to Win an Olympic Medal, Karnam Malleswari | woman at work

The 1st Indian Woman to Win an Olympic Medal, Karnam Malleswari


In a sleepy little village in Andhra Pradesh called Voosavanipeta grew up a girl who would one day become the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal. Karnam Malleswari not only made history in 2000 but also helped raise the status of female competitors across India.

Was called the Iron Lady of Indian sport

Becoming what can only be described as a household name, she won a bronze medal in the weightlifting event, a sport that was usually only dominated by the men. Winning at the Sydney Olympics back in 2000, today, she is incredibly proud of her achievements. She was 25 years old at the time, touted as the Iron Lady and inspired a sports revolution among Indian girls, bringing them to weightlifting and other sports. Honoured again in 2017, for her achievement during the government’s ‘Swacchta Mission’, she said, “By being the first lady to win an Olympic medal for India you had created an impression on a global platform and made the whole country proud. Being the torchbearer for women’s empowerment you must understand the importance of cleanliness and I believe that your association will inspire more people to join this mission.”

Started training in a thatched shed in her village

Following her Olympic bronze win, she also won two gold medals and two silver at the World Championships and many at the Asian level. Beginning her training at the tender age of 12, she had no idea what it was going to take to reach the Olympics at first. Training in a thatched shed in her village under her coach at the time, Neelamshetty Appanna, her story is well known as one of the ultimate success stories in Indian sporting history; she was honoured with the Khel Ratna in 1995 and the Padma Shri in 1999. Born in a family of four sisters, they too trained to become weightlifters. Currently living in Yamunanagar with her family, she works for the Food Corporation of India and continues to inspire many with her personal story.

Today, 17 years after her win, she is not forgotten having retired from the sport in 2004 and continues to encourage young women to enter sports with confidence.

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