For the first time three top sportspersons -- boxers M C Mary Kom and Vijender Singh, and wrestler Sushil Kumar -- were selected for the country's highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.
While the prestigious award was previously shared in 1994-95 [yachtsmen Homi D Motivala and P K Garg], 1996-97 [tennis ace Leander Paes and weightlifter N Kunjarani Devi] and 2002-03 [shooter Anjali Bhagwat and track and field athlete K M Beenamol], Wednesday marked the first time that three individuals were picked for the coveted honour for outstanding performances in 2008-09.
Four-time World champion Mary Kom and Olympic bronze medallist Vijender are the first boxers to be conferred the award, which carries enhanced prize-money of Rs 750,000 and a citation.
Sushil, another bronze medallist at the Beijing Olympics, ended wrestling 56-year-old wait for a medal at the world's biggest sporting extravaganza.
"Normally the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna 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 to Mary Kom," the Sports Ministry said.
Star cricketer Gautam Gambhir, badminton sensation Saina Nehwal, World record holder double-trap shooter Ranjan Sodhi, hockey player Ignace Tirkey and chess player Tania Sachdev are among the 15 sportspersons named for the Arjuna awards.
The 20-year-old Saina is currently world No 6 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 the Beijing Olympics, are among those picked for the Dronacharya award.
The awards will be given away by President Pratibha Patil at a glittering function at Rashtrapati Bhawan on August 29, which is celebrated as National Sports Day.
The 25-year-old Mary Kom, a pin weight (46kg) pugilist, 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 said.
The mother of two, who is the International Boxing Association's ambassador for women's boxing, was overlooked for last year's Khel Ratna, which had gone to India 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 also won a bronze medal at the Asian Championships in China last month.
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 the 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 500,000 each.
Earlier, the Khel Ratna carried a cash prize of Rs 500,000 and the amount was Rs 300,000 for Arjuna, Dhyan Chand and Dronacharya awardees.
The recipients of the 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: 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: Ishar Singh Deol (athletics), Satbir Singh Dahya (wrestling).
Dronacharya: Baldev Singh (hockey), Jaidev Bisht (boxing), Satpal (wrestling), Pullela Gopichand (badminton).