Ace shooter Gagan Narang, who notched up four gold medals at last year’s Commonwealth Games, was conferred the country’s highest sporting honour — the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in a glittering ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Monday.
The 28-year-old rifle shooter, who was the first Indian marksman to qualify for next year’s London Olympics with a bronze in the World Championships last year, was an automatic choice for the prestigious award.
Narang, collected the trophy that consists of a medal, citation and cash prize of Rs 7.5 lakh from President Pratibha Patil.
Besides winning four gold medals in the 2010 CWG, Narang bagged a silver in the men’s 10m air rifle singles event at the Asian Games last year.He also won a team silver at the Asian Games when he combined with Abhinav Bindra and Sanjeev Rajput in the 10m air rifle event.
Among the Arjuna awardees, the most high-profile among the ones chosen this year — Indian pace spearhead Zaheer Khan — could not attend the function as he was recently operated upon on his injured ankle in England.
Others who were also not present due to varied reasons were tennis ace Somdev Devvarman, gymnast Ashish Kumar and discus thrower Vikas Gowda.
Badminton ace Jwala Gutta and India’s first woman world champion Tejaswini Sawant, who clinched the top honours in the 50m rifle prone event, were among the star athletes who received the Arjuna award.
Suranjoy Singh (Boxing), Sunil Chhetri (Football) and Rajpal Singh (Hockey), also collected their trophies personally.
Rahul Banerjee (Archery), Preeja Sreedharan (Athletics), Vikas Gowda (Athletics), Virdhawal Khade (Swimming), Ashish Kumar (Gymnastics), Ravi Kumar (Weightlifting), Ravinder Singh (Wrestling), Sandhya Rani (Wushu), Prasanta Karmakar (Swimming), Sanjay Kumar (Volleyball), Rakesh Kumar (Kabaddi) and Tejaswini (Kabaddi) also received the award for their achievements in the last three years.
Normally not more than 15 Arjuna awards are given in a calendar year. But keeping in view the performance of Indian sportspersons in the Commonwealth, Asian Games and Olympic Games during a particular year, the awards exceeding 15 in number are allowed with proper justification and approval of the Sports Ministry.
The Committee noted that Asian Games and Commonwealth Games were held in the year 2010, wherein the performance of Indian sportspersons was exceptional.
Keeping this in view, the selection committee recommended names of 19 sportspersons for the Arjuna Award.
Zaheer, who has taken 271 Test wickets at an average of 31.94, besides 273 One-day wickets at an average of 28.84, is the first male cricketer to have got the Arjuna Award after Gautam Gambhir bagged it in 2009.
Somdev had struck a golden double last year by finishing on top in both the Commonwealth and Asian Games singles events, while fly weight boxer Suranjoy Singh clinched an astonishing seven back-to-back gold medals last year including the Commonwealth Games gold.
In the Asian Games last year, long-distance runner Preeja Sreedharan bagged a gold, discus thrower Vikas Gowda won a bronze, while wushu player Sandhya Rani finished with a silver.
Archer Rahul Banerjee claimed the men’s recurve gold in the Commonwealth Games last year, while Ashish became the first Indian gymnast to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games.
Ashish clinched a silver in the men’s vault and bronze in the men’s floor events of the Delhi Games.
Dronacharya Award, the top recognition for coaches in the country, was conferred on five including Inukurthi Venkateshwara Rao (Boxing), Devender Kumar Rathore (Gymnastics), Ramphal (Wrestling), Kuntal Roy (Athletics), Rajinder Singh (Hockey).
The Arjuna and Dronacharya awardees got statuettes, citations and cash prize of Rs 5 lakh each.
Dhyan Chand Award, given for the life-time contribution to sports development, was conferred on Shabbir Ali (Football), Sushil Kohli (Swimming) and Rajkumar (Wrestling).
The award carries a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh, a statuette and a citation.