Ace shooter Gagan Narang, who won four gold medals at last year's Commonwealth Games, was conferred the country's highest sporting honour -- the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award -- at a glittering ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, in New Delhi, on Monday.
The 28-year-old rifle shooter, the first Indian marksman to qualify for next year's London Olympics after winning a bronze in the World Championships last year, was an automatic choice for the prestigious award.
Narang, who was disgruntled at being "ignored" for the award last year, collected the award, that comprises 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 for an ankle injury, sustained in England during the Test series.
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.
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 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 get the Arjuna Award after Gautam Gambhir bagged it in 2009.
Inukurthi Venkateshwara Rao (Boxing), Devender Kumar Rathore (Gymnastics), Ramphal (Wrestling), Kuntal Roy (Athletics), Rajinder Singh (Hockey), were bestowed with the Dronacharya Award -- the top recognition for coaches in the country.
The Arjuna and Dronacharya awardees got statuettes, citations and cash prize of Rs 5 lakh each.
The 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.
The list of awardees:
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna: Gagan Narang (Shooting).
Arjuna Awards: Zaheer Khan (Cricket), Rahul Banerjee (Archery), Preeja Sreedharan (Athletics), Jwala Gutta (Badminton), Suranjoy Singh (Boxing), Sunil Chhetri (Football), Rajpal Singh (Hockey), Rakesh Kumar (Kabaddi), Tejaswini Sawant (Shooting), Virdhawal Khade (Swimming), Ashish Kumar (Gymnastics), Somdev Devvarman (Tennis), Ravinder Singh (Wrestling), Ravi Kumar (Weightlifting), Vikas Gowda (Athletics), Sandhya Rani (Wushu), Prasanta Karmakar (Swimming), Sanjay Kumar (Volleyball), Tejaswini (Kabaddi).
Dronacharya Awards: Inukurthi Venkateshwara Rao (Boxing), Devender Kumar Rathore (Gymnastics), Ramphal (Wrestling), Kuntal Roy (Athletics), Rajinder Singh (Hockey).
Dhyan Chand Awards: Shabbir Ali (Football), Sushil Kohli (Swimming), Rajkumar (Wrestling).
Photograph: Press Information Bureau