Malleswari becomes national hero

Karnam Malleswari
Karnam Malleswari

20 September 2000

Karnam Malleswari is now a national hero in India.

The 25-year-old was hailed as a treasure and role model on Wednesday by India's media, sports officials and politicians for her bronze medal-winning performance at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the first Olympic medal ever won by an Indian woman.

But Malleswari has had enough and, having proved her critics wrong, she plans to retire now from international competition.

"I've been training for the last 12 years," she told Reuters at the athletes' village where she has been overwhelmed by congratulations since Tuesday's medal win.

"Now I'm a little tired," she said. "I want a rest now."

World champion in 1994 and 1995, Malleswari was hurt in the leadup to the Sydney Olympics by a critical article in an Indian magazine which said she was overweight and drank beer.

"They had accused me of being overweight and unfit... and now I have proved them wrong," she said

"I'm very happy that I've won the first (medal by a woman) for India. I'm blessed to win the first medal. Too bad I couldn't win gold."

Malleswari won her bronze in the 69 kilogram category with an overall lift of 240 kg, finishing just behind winner Lin Weining of China and Hungary's Erzsebet Markus.

"She is a national hero, the first Indian woman to win a medal," said Sandeet Mehta, the spokesman for the Indian Olympic Committee in Sydney.

"We hope that this will open the gates for other women in sports in India," Mehta said.

Mehta also dismissed the accusations against Malleswari.

"It is a huge country and lots of people accuse lots of people of things," he told Reuters. "Her bronze was very big news in India."

The closest an Indian woman had come previously to winning an Olympic medal was the great runner P.T. Usha, whomissed a bronze in the 400 metres hurdles at the Los Angeles Olympics by just one hundredth of a second.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who phoned Malleswari in Sydney to congratulate her after her medal win, hailed her success as "a tribute to Indian womanhood".

President K.R. Narayanan also sent a congratulatory message.

Malleswari's medal was only the third individual Olympic medal won by an Indian, after bronzes by bantamweightwrestler Khashaba Jadhav at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki and by Leander Paes in men's singles tennis four years ago in Atlanta.

India's only other Olympic medals have come in men's hockey, where they have won eight Olympic golds, one silverand two bronze medals.

The last gold came at the boycott-depleted 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.
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