There is no dearth of talent in India: Karnam Malleswari

Karnam Malleswari interacting with the official during Weightlifting 50 KG Boys event in 1st Khelo India School Games.

On Monday, Bhaktaram Desti (gold), C. Dinesh (silver) and Subhash Lahre (bronze) couldn’t believe their luck when they were presented their medals at the podium ceremony of the 50 kg class. It was a moment they will remember for the rest of their lives because the medals were presented by none other than India’s sole Olympic weightlifting medallist, Karnam Malleswari.

None of the winners were even born when Malleswari won bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the women’s 69 kg class with a total lift of 240 kg. The presence of Malleswari and the legendary Kunjurani Devi on the opening day of the weightlifting event at the KD Jadav arena caused considerable excitement among the participants.  

Malleswari, who retired from the sport after the 2004 Athens Olympics, has been appointed as the weightlifting observer by the Government of India. Since then the famed ward of Pal Singh Sandhu, who is the competition director of the weightlifting event in the first Khelo India games, has been busy balancing her work life and managing her academy. “I’ve been busy balancing my work at the Food Corporation of India and running my weightlifting academy that I have set up in Yamunanagar in Haryana,” said Malleswari, keeping a close eye on the boys’ 50kg action. “It’s great to see two kids from my academy participating here. More than their performances, it is the exposure to these big events that counts at this age. Through Games like these I want more youngsters take up the sport. There is no dearth of weightlifting talent in India, they just need exposure.”

Malleswari, also a two-time gold medallist at the World Championships (1994, ’95) wants to take the sport to the grassroots level by supporting junior athletes by making best training accessible to them. “Most of the kids at my academy come from very humble background. Prince’s (participant in the boys’ 50kg class) father sells vegetables and the other girl from my academy also comes from a similar background. My biggest challenge is to provide these kids with a proper diet. It is great to see the young talent on show in these Games.”

Malleswari feels that the sport might not have changed massively in its essence since her days, but various external factors in the preparation have undergone a transformation. “Weightlifting hasn’t changed much from my time. I got bronze in Sydney with a 240kg aggregate (snatch and clean and jerk). Athletes still win medals at the World Championships and the Olympics by lifting similar weights, but things have become more advanced with respect to facilities, training and diet,” she said. “There are better medical and dietary supplements available than they were in my time. We didn’t have the same kind of exposure to these things. Yet, I remember going to my first nationals in 1990 where I broke eight national records.”

Fourteen years into her retirement, Malleswari revealed that she still puts her skills to use. “I still practice, but not with the same intensity, of course. I want to remain in touch with the sport because it helps me to demonstrate the right technique to my students and also it will be helpfiul in the future when I start training my son.”