Mary Kom, Vijender and Sushil get Khel Ratna

For the first time ever, three top sportspersons -- boxers M C Mary Kom and Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar -- were on Wednesday selected for the country`s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.

Last Updated: Jul 29, 2009, 18:04 PM IST

New Delhi: For the first time ever, three top sportspersons -- boxers M C Mary Kom and Vijender Singh
and wrestler Sushil Kumar -- were on Wednesday selected for the
country`s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna

While the prestigious award has been previously shared by
two sportspersons in 1996-97 and 2002-03, it is the first time
that three have been picked for the coveted honour for their
outstanding performance in 2008-09.

Four-time world champion M C Mary Kom and Olympic bronze
medallist Vijender are the first boxers to get the award which
carries an enhanced prize money of Rs 7.5 lakh and a citation.

Also a bronze medallist from Beijing Olympics, Sushil is
ended wrestling 56-year-old wait for a medal at the world`s
biggest sporting extravaganza.

"Normally, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award is given to
only one sportsperson in a year. However, taking into
consideration the spectacular performance of Vijender and
Sushil, the Government has accepted the recommendation of the
Selection Committee to confer the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna
Award on both of them as a special case, in addition Mary
Kom," the sports ministry said in a statement.

Star cricketer Gautam Gambhir, badminton sensation Saina
Nehwal, world record holder double trap shooter Ranjan Sodhi,
veteran hockey player Ignace Tirkey and chess player Tania
Sachdev were among the 15 athletes selected for the Arjuna
The 20-year-old Saina is currently the world number six
after winning the Indonesian Super Series and a couple of
other titles on the circuit.

Former All England champion and Saina`s coach Pullela
Gopichand and Satpal Singh, who trained Sushil for Beijing
Olympics, were among those picked for the Dronacharya award.

The awards would be given away by President Pratibha
Patil at a glittering function at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on
August 29, celebrated as the National Sports Day.

The 25-year-old Mary Kom, a pin weight (46kg) pugilist,
has won medals at all the five World Championships held so
far, including an unprecedented fourth successive gold that
she clinched at last year`s edition held in China.

The Manipuri had previously won the Arjuna award in 2004
before being conferred with the Padma Shri a couple of years
later in 2006.

"I feel very honoured. Besides, this award has given me
the motivation to continue," she told reporters.

The mother of two, who is International Boxing
Association`s ambassador for women`s boxing, was overlooked
for last year`s Khel Ratna, which had gone to Indian cricket
captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Vijender (75kg) became the first Indian boxer to clinch
an Olympic medal when he won the middleweight bronze in
Beijing. The 22-year-old won a bronze medal at the Asian
Championships in China last month.

Sushil, on the other hand, won a gold medal at the German
Grand Prix tournament in Dortmond last month, his first
competitive event since winning the Olympic bronze.

Mary Kom has been consistency personified ever since
she donned the gloves and won a silver medal in the very first
World Championship she competed in.

She didn`t look back after that and won a gold in all the
later four editions.

Remarkably, Mary Kom`s fourth World Championship gold
came after she had been away from the ring for almost two
years following the birth of her twin sons.

So stunning was her performance last year that AIBA
dubbed her `Magnificent Mary` and made her the face of its
campaign for the inclusion of women`s boxing in the 2012
London Olympics.

Indian women`s boxing also made its presence felt in the
list of Arjuna awardees this year with Mary Kom`s state-mate L
Saritha Devi.

Saritha (52kg) had won a silver medal at last year`s
World Championship and was a gold medallist at the event`s
2006 edition held in New Delhi.

Gambhir is the first male cricketer in six years to get
the Arjuna on the back of his consistent performance in both
Tests and ODIs in 2008. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was last
cricketer to have got the honour in 2003. Woman cricketer
Anjum Chopra had won the award in 2007.
With a view to recognising the contribution made to
sports development by entities other than sportspersons and
coaches, this year the government instituted a new award --
Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar.

It has four categories -- community sports development,
promotion of sports academies of excellence, support to elite
sportspersons and employment to sportspersons.

Arjuna, Dhyan Chand and Dronacharya Awardees will receive
statuettes, citations and cash prize of Rs five lakh each.

Earlier, the Khel Ratna carried a cash prize of Rs five lakh
and the amount was Rs three lakh for Arjuna, Dhyan Chand and
Dronacharya awardees.

The recipients of Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar will
receive a trophy and citation.

The list of awardees:

Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna: M C Mary Kom (boxing), Vijender
Singh (boxing), Sushil Kumar (wrestling).

Arjuna Awards: Mangal Singh Champia (archery), K Sinimol
Paulose (athletics), Saina Nehwal (badminton), L Saritha Devi
(boxing), Tania Sachdeva (chess), Gautam Gambhir (cricket),
Ignace Tirkey (hockey), Surinder Kaur (hockey), Pankaj Shirsat
(kabaddi), Parul D Parmar (badminton- disabled), Satish Joshi
(rowing), Ranjan Sodhi (shooting), Poulami Ghatak (table
tennis), Yogeshwar Dutt (wrestling), G L Yadav (yachting).

Dhyanchand Awards: Ishar Singh Deol (athletics), Satbir
Singh Dahya (wrestling)

Dronacharya Award: Baldev Singh (hockey), Jaidev Bisht
(boxing), Satpal (wrestling), Pullela Gopichand (badminton).

Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar:

TATA Steel Ltd (Community Sports Identification and
Nurturing of Budding Young Talent), None Qualified (Financial
Support for Sports Excellence), TATA Steel Ltd (Establishment
and Management of Sports Academies of Excellence), Railways
Sports Promotion Board (Employment of Sportspersons and sports
welfare measures).

Bureau Report