Ronjan Sodhi conferred Khel Ratna; Arjuna awards for 14 others
New Delhi: Robbed of some sheen due to selection controversies this year, the National Sports Awards were presented today to the country's top athletes and coaches with shooter Ronjan Sodhi getting the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna -- the country's highest sporting honour -- while cricketer Virat Kohli was among the Arjuna awardees.
A loud applause greeted the ace shooter as he received the Khel Ratna award from President Pranab Mukherjee in the presence of a host of Ministers, dignitaries and sports celebrities.
But there was some drama just hours before the awards when long-jumper Renjith Maheshwary's Arjuna award was held back after reports emerged of him being a dope-tainted athlete.
Sodhi became the seventh shooter to be honoured with the prestigious award. Interestingly, it is for the third consecutive year that the Khel Ratna award has gone to a shooter.
"It's a huge honour for me. It will motivate me to do better, spur me to win more laurels for the country. A medal in Olympics is the greatest achievement for a sportsperson and that is the only thing I want to win next," Sodhi told PTI.
"I am off to Italy to train for 12 days and then head to Peru for the World Championships. Rio is my target and I am very optimistic about qualifying for the Olympics and winning a medal there."
Sodhi, who had a disastrous outing at the London Olympics last year, is a former world number one. He was a double trap gold-medallist at last year's Asian Games, besides being a silver-medallist at the Commonwealth Games.
Sodhi, who was the first Indian to win two back-to-back World Cup gold medals, collected the top honour which comprises a medal, citation and a cash prize of Rs 7.5 lakh each.
Another star attraction at the ceremony was cricketer Kohli, who was given a thunderous applause while receiving the Arjuna award.
However, rising badminton player P V Sindhu, who became the first Indian woman shuttler to clinch a bronze medal at the World Championships, could not be present at the function personally to take the award.
Besides Sindhu, this year's Arjuna awardees list featured a number of female sportspersons. World Championship bronze medallist Kavita Chahal, veteran squash player Joshna Chinappa, former hockey captain Saba Anjum, paddler Mouma Das, wrestler Neha Rathi and shooter Rajkumari Rathore and archer Chekrovolu Swuro, who was part of the silver medal-winning team in the 2011 World Cup.
But this year's awards were marred by controversies since the day the list was announced. Sodhi's selection for the Khel Ratna triggered a protest from discus thrower Krishna Poonia and paralympics silver-medallist long-jumper H S Girisha.
But Sodhi refused to talk about the controversy.
"I do not wish to talk about the controversy, rather I will keep training hard for future events and the Olympics," said Sodhi.
There were the usual protests by the some others who felt they deserved to be in the Arjuna awardees' list and if that was not enough, the Maheswary scandal also struck the awards.
Maheswary had won a bronze medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games with a national record.
Rising golfer Gaganjeet Bhullar, chess player Abhijeet Gupta, billiards and snooker star Rupesh Shah, wrestler Dharmender Dalal and para-athlete Amit Kumar Saroha were also conferred the Arjuna award.
The choices were made by a selection committee headed by three-time billiards world champion Michael Ferreira and comprised noted sportspersons like Limba Ram, V Devarajan, Zafar Iqbal, Vandana Rao, Anjali Bhagwat, Indu Puri, Shakti Singh, Ravi Shastri, Kripa Shankar Patel and Surinder Khanna besides a few other bureaucrats.
Dronacharya Award, the top recognition for coaches in the country, was conferred on five including long-serving archery coach Purnima Mahato and women's hockey coach Narendra Singh Saini, wrestling coach Raj Singh, athletics coach K P Thomas and boxing coach Mahavir Singh.
Mahato started coaching in 1994 and among her wards is former world number one and Commonwealth Games gold-medallist Deepika Kumari.
Saini, who is employed with the Sports Authority of India, has been in coaching for 17 years and four girls trained by him are in the senior national team while 10 are in the junior national squad.
Thomas, who is based in Kerala, has Olympian Anju Bobby George, sprinter Jincy Philips, and 800m double Asian Games gold-medallist Shiny Wilson among his long list of wards.
A little-known Mahavir Singh's name was endorsed by London Olympics bronze-medallist and five-time world champion woman boxer M C Mary Kom.
Raj Singh is the Wrestling Federation of India Secretary General and has been a coach for nearly four decades.
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 Jagraj Singh Mann (Athletics), Gundeep Kumar (Hockey), Vinod Kumar (Wrestling) and Sukhbir Singh Tokas (Para-Sports).
The award carries a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh, a statuette and a citation.
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna: Ronjan Sodhi
Arjuna Award: Chekrovolu Swuro (Archery), P V Sindhu (Badminton), Kavita Chahal (Boxing), Rupesh Shah (Billiards & Snooker), Virat Kohli (Cricket), Abhijeet Gupta (Chess), Gagan Jeet Bhullar (Golf), Saba Anjum (Hockey), Rajkumari Rathore (Shooting), Joshna Chinnappa (Squash), Mouma Das (Table Tennis), Neha Rathi (Wrestling), Dharmender Dalal (Wrestling), Amit Kumar Saroha (Para Athletics).
Dronacharya Awards: Purnima Mahato (Archery), Mahavir Singh (Boxing), Narinder Singh Saini (Hockey), K P Thomas (Athletics), Raj Singh (Wrestling).
Dhyan Chand Awards: Mary D'souza Sequeira (Athletics), Syed Ali (Hockey), Anil Mann (Wrestling), Girraj Singh (Para Sports).
E Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Awards: Basant Singh Roy (Mountaineering), Major Ranveer Singh Jamwal (Mountaineering), Lt. Cdr. Abhilash Tomy (Sailing), Naib Subedar Paramjeet Singh Siddhu (Hang Gliding), Prem Singh (Mountaineering), Hari Ram (Mountaineering).
Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar: Community Sports Identification and Nurturing of Budding Young Talent (Dr U K Mishra, Founder and President, National Sports Academy, Allahabad), Financial Support for Sports Excellence (Services Sports Control Board), Establishment and Management of Sports Academies of Excellence (Pullela Gopichand Academy of Badminton, Hyderabad), Employment of Sportspersons and sports welfare measures (Petroleum Sports Promotion Board).
G Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy: Guru Nanak Dev Vishwavidyalay, Amritsar (2010-11), Punjabi Vishwavidyalay, Patiala (2011-12), Punjabi Vishwavidyalay, Patiala (2012-13).