I am happy that finally it has come: Narang
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 -- 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 disgruntled at being "ignored" for the award last year.
"I am happy that finally it has come," said Narang, after receiving the prestigious award from President Pratibha Patil at Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Although Narang has won medals at major international tournaments, including the World Cup, World Championships and the Asian Games, an Olympic medal is something that has eluded the shooter. Now, he is determined to make it to the podium in London next year.
"It is not going to be an easy task in London. I am already feeling the pressure but I am determined to go all the way. I have been unlucky twice, hope I get third time lucky," he said.
Image: President Pratibha Patil presents the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratan Award for the year 2011 to Gagan Narang, as Sports Minister Ajay Maken (left) watches, at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday
Photographs: Press Information Bureau, Govt of India
'This is the beginning of a new journey for me'
Footballer Sunil Chhetri, who bagged the Arjuna award, said the honour is motivation for him to work harder on his game.
"I dedicate this award to my family. This is the beginning of a new journey for me.
"The award comes with more responsibility and I cannot let others down. I need to punch myself and go that extra mile. It's an inspiration to do better as I am now in the same league with so many legends -- not only from football but from various disciplines of sports," said the Indian striker.
Image: Footballer Sunil Chhetri receives the Arjuna Award from the President
Dronacharya for Venkateshwara Rao, Rajinder
Inukurthi Venkateshwara Rao (Boxing), Devender Kumar Rathore (Gymnastics), Ramphal (Wrestling), Kuntal Roy (Athletics), Rajinder Singh (Hockey), were conferred 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 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 citation.
Image: Former India hockey player and coach Rajinder Singh receives the Dronacharya Award from the President
The committee recommended 19 names this year
Normally, not more than 15 Arjuna awards are given in a calendar year, but the scheme of Arjuna awards also provides that 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 may be allowed with proper justification and approval of the Sports Ministry.
The Committee noted that the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games were held in 2010, wherein the performance of Indian sportspersons was exceptional. Keeping this factor in view, the committee recommended names of 19 sportspersons for the Arjuna award.
Image: The President and Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Ajay Maken with the awardees at Rashtrapati Bhavan
Suranjoy, Somdev honoured
Others in the list were Somdev Devvarman, Suranjoy Singh and Vikas Gowda.
Rising tennis star Somdev struck a golden double last year, finishing on top in both the Commonwealth and Asian Games singles.
Flyweight boxer Suranjoy won an astonishing seven back-to-back gold medals last year, including the Commonwealth Games gold.
Discus thrower Vikas Gowda won a bronze medal at the Asian Games last year.
Long-distance runner Preeja Sreedharan, an Asian Games gold-medallist, are the track and field athletes who made the cut.
Image: Boxer Suranjoy Singh receives the Arjuna Award from the President
Awards for Gutta, Sawant
Among shooters, India's first woman World champion Tejaswini Sawant, who clinched top honours in the 50m rifle prone event, figured in the list.
Ashish Kumar, the first Indian gymnast to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games, also made it to the list. He clinched a silver in the men's vault and bronze in the men's floor events of the Delhi Games.
Wushu player Sandhya Rani will also be feted for her Asian Games silver with the Arjuna award, while archer Rahul Banerjee, who clinched the men's recurve gold in the Commonwealth Games last year, will also be honoured.
Jwala Gutta, winner of 10 Senior National doubles titles, was also honoured with an Arjuna.
Image: Badminton ace Jwala Gutta receives the Arjuna award from the President