Olympian Karnam Malleswari: Delhi mein potential hai, bas opportunity milni chahiye

Indian athlete Karnam Malleswari, recipient of Shri Rajiv Gandhi’s Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards, was the country’s first Olympian. A former Indian weightlifter who has now been appointed vice chancellor of Delhi Sports University talks about the need for Delhi’s youngsters to have equal access to sports and a platform to enhance their skills rather than just a sports quota.

A name like Karnam Malleswari sure rings a bell! Karnam Malleswari’s journey as a 12-year-old weightlifting aspirant who was deemed too thin and weak for the sport led her to become the first Indian woman to win an Olympic bronze medal at the Sydney 2000 Games is inspiring. Her goal, as the vice chancellor of the upcoming Delhi Sports University, is to help more youngsters achieve greater feats in sports for the country, she says.

‘Hum toh nange pair practice karte they’

The Olympics presented few opportunities for Indians when Malleshwari began her training. “Hum log bahut struggle karke aaye. Mitti mein training ki. Humare paas proper platform nahin tha, shoes nahi they, weightlifting kit nahin thi (We struggled a lot, trained in mud without a proper platform, shoes, or a weightlifting kit),” recalls the 46-year-old, whose journey has had many ups and downs.

Her vision for the youth who wish to pursue sports as a career is as follows: “Hum jab National medal leke India camp mein gaye, tab pata hi nahi tha ki weightlifting ke liye bhi ek platform hota hai. Hum toh nange pair practice karte the… Iss struggle mein kaafi time waste ho jata hai. Agar right bachhe ko right time help mil jati hai toh woh bahut achievements leke aa sakta hai.”

Karnam Malleswari had her finest moments at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she won the bronze medal in 69kg weight category. (Photo: David Guttenfelder/AP)

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee affectionately called Bharat ki beti, she strongly feels that she can create opportunities for youth “jo sports mein apna career banana chahte hain”, and adds:“Humari soch yehi hain ki nayi university mein degree ke alawa, Olympians aur world champions ko produce karna hai! Jin bachhon ko national level pe, ya ek aada international level ke baad recognition aur jobs nahin milti, aur bahut struggle karna padta hai life mein… yeh university sirf standard six se leke post graduation hi nahi balki PhD tak unko platform degi. Aur bachche koi bhi sport mein wahan facilities ko use karke, apne skills ko bada ke, desh ke liye naam kama sakte hain (Often young sportspersons who play at the National level or one or two international games, struggle to get recognition and jobs later. At this university, they’ll get an opportunity to study from class sixth uptil PhD, and can willingly take up any sport of their choice).”

‘Medals degree ke saath jodenge’

The Olympian has been running the K Malleswari Foundation for the past 20 years, which runs educational programmes aimed at women weight lifters to promote health and well-being. Having inspired many through her journey, this champion will now mentor kids, but is under no “pressure”. The goal of this project is to change the general attitude toward youngsters who get in via sports quotas. “Kahin jobs mein 5% quota hai. Universities mein quota hain. Par ab is [university] mein quota nahin hoga; sirf players honge. Unke medals bhi degree ke saath jode jayenge!”

Unlike its neighbor Haryana, Delhi has never been known for producing world class sportspeople. And sharing how she plans to tap the potential of the Capital, she opines: “Main Andhra se hun. My husband is from here (Delhi). Aisa nahin hai ki Delhi mein potential nahin hai, bas opportunity milni chahiye!”

‘Koi heroine nahin dikhti jo 40-50 kg utha sake’

Having lived such an adventurous life, it is only natural that she would want to see it adapted for the screen. She wonders, however, who portrays her? “Jab bhi merepe film bane, usme masala nah ho. Real story dikhayi jaye. Jo humare youth hain unko, especially ladkiyako ko motivation mile. Par mujhe koi [Bollywood] heroine nahin dikhti jo 40-50 kg utha sake. Mary Kom ki boxing toh technical hai, kaise bhi kar sakte hain. Vazan toh uthana padega nah. Main bhi wait kar rahi hun kaun uthayega,” she quips.

(Disclaimer – The story originally published on Hindustan Times authored by Naina Arora)

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