October 5, 2000


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The Rediff Interview / Karnam Malleshwari

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'I could have won a gold medal, but one wrong lift cost me the first place'

Bronze medal winner at the Sydney Olympics Karnam Malleshwari is in great demand. At her sector 10 residence in Faridabad there is an endless stream of visitors who have travelled miles to shake hands with her or have a glimpse of the woman who was the lone medal winner in India's 113-strong contingent at the 27th Olympiad.

Karnam MalleshwariWhen she landed at Indira Gandhi International airport, in Delhi, around midnight on October 3, a host of well wishers and her relatives were around to greet her. Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala also visited her and assured her all the help she would need to set up a weightlifting academy in Haryana. To provide shape to the promise made by the Chief Minister of the state, top officials of Faridabad district also visited her and told her how happy they would be to convert a community centre into a weightlifting gymnasium for the time being.

Malleshwari is happy that her talent is being recognized at last. She told she would be only too happy to train the women of Haryana in weightlifting just as much as she would be to help women in Andhra Pradesh, where also she plans to set up an academy.

Onkar Singh spoke to the strongwoman of Indian sport.

When you left Delhi, did you expect to perform like you ultimately did in Sydney?

Karnam Malleshwari on the victory podium at the Sydney GamesWhen I left Delhi, I was fully prepared for the competition. I had my best performance to back me up. But sports is such a thing that you never know what might happen on a particular day. It is like war, where you have to accept victory and defeat in the same spirit. I was determined to give my best but certainly I had no idea that I could also win a medal.

There was a bit of controversy about the process of selection. Kunjarani Devi even gave a petition to Minister of Sports Dhindsa, alleging that she had been unfairly overlooked. Were you aware of what was going on in the Indian Olympic Association office in Delhi on this count?

Of course, I knew what was going on. In fact, I was even blackmailed. Coach Mr Sandhu told me if there was a choice between Malli or Kunjarani (Devi) then I would be the one who would be forced out of the team, because Sonamacha (Chanu) is an automatic choice. We were all tense till the last minute. We had no idea as to what might happen the next moment. I did not know that the choice was between Sonamacha and Kunjarani. I believed what I was told.

If Kunjarani had gone in place of Sonamacha, do you think it would have made a difference?

It is difficult to say anything because competition is intense. So it is a bit of a hard choice.

Do you feel that there was a campaign against you?

The way the whole thing was projected it looked so. There were articles in leading newspapers and magazines about Sonamacha. I had won two world medals, but it did not count for those who were involved in the selection process. I was hurt when someone came and told me that Sonamacha was better then me. Of course, the whole thing was being orchestrated. I felt bad about it. This misinformation campaign was being carried on by one of the coaches.

Did it affect your performance?

Not at all. People said all sorts of things about me. Few know that I started weightlifting at the tender age of 13. So over the years I have grown in size and weight. But I have never let my weight affect my performance. This is evident from the fact that even those who were criticizing me before the Indian contingent left for Sydney were praising me after my medal-winning performance. Coach Sandhu was the first person to stand before television cameras and say he knew I would win a medal. I knew he was not telling the truth.

Who would you give credit for this performance?

My husband, my family members and my in-laws, and all those who wished me well for the Games.

You had threatened to quit competitive weightlifting at one stage. Are you still planning to go ahead with your plans?

No. I had said this when I was under tension and pressure. But after my medal-winning performance I have decided to train hard for the next Games and try to win a gold medal. I could have won a gold medal in Sydney but one wrong lift cost me the first place.

Are you going to start a coaching academy?

Yes. Chief Minister of Haryana Chautalaji has offered to open a weightlifting academy in the state. There is a similar offer from Andhra Pradesh. I want women interested in weightlifting to come forward and join me in training.

Milkha Singh says there should be a probe into the process of selection of the athletes that went for the Olympic Games. Do you agree with him?

Yes, I do. Because there is something wrong with Indian sports. We must find out what and set it right. And the only way to do this is to order a comprehensive probe.


Mail Sports Editor