'It's the biggest award that I have received in my career'
A thunderous applause greeted London Olympics heroes Vijay Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt as they jointly received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the country's highest sporting honour, at a glittering ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan in Delhi on Thursday.
An unprecedented 25 sportspersons, including cricketer Yuvraj Singh, were conferred the Arjuna award by President Pranab Mukherjee in the presence of a host of ministers, dignitaries and sports celebrities.
Pistol shooter Vijay won a silver in the 25m rapid fire event at the London Games, while wrestler Yogeshwar bagged a bronze in 60kg freestyle. Both the medallists collected the award, which comprises a medal, citation and cash prize of Rs 7.5 lakh each.
"It's the biggest award that I have received in my career. I am really excited and feeling proud.
"I would like to maintain my Olympic form into the next big events like Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. I will begin my practice at Mhow from next month," said Vijay.
Image: President of India Pranab Mukherjee presents the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratan for 2012 to Vijay Kumar
'It is a proud moment for me'
The 29-year-old Yogeshwar, who injured his right eye during bouts at the London Games, gave credit to his 'gurus' and parents for helping him chase and realise his dream of winning an Olympic medal.
"It is a great occasion for us and the happiest moment of our lives. It is a proud moment for me.
"I am thankful to the people of the country and to all my well wishers who have shown great faith in me," he said.
The choices were made by a selection committee, headed by 2004 Olympics silver medallist shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and comprised noted sportspersons like Akhil Kumar (boxing), Khajan Singh (swimming) and Bhaichung Bhutia (football) and a few bureaucrats.
Image: President Pranab Mukherjee presents the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratan to Yogeshwar Dutt
'The award will give me a lot of confidence'
Normally only one sportsperson is awarded the Khel Ratna, but the scheme provides that the norm can be relaxed in exceptional circumstances like winning an Olympic medal.
Yuvraj, who is preparing to stage a comeback after recovering from a rare germ cell cancer, received the Arjuna award.
"It's a special award for me. I had been nominated few times, but finally I got it this time.
"It's a proud moment for me and my family. The award will give me a lot of confidence to make a comeback and perform well," said Yuvraj.
Image: President Pranab Mukherjee presents the Arjuna award to Yuvraj Singh
Kashyap was among the Arjuna winners
Hockey mid-fielder Sardar Singh, wrestlers Geeta Phogat and Narsingh Yadav, shooters Annu Raj Singh and Omkar Singh, shuttlers P Kashyap and Ashwini Ponappa, archers Deepika Kumari and Bombayla Devi were among Arjuna winners this year.
The loudest applause was reserved for the Arjuna award-winning para-athlete Deepa Malik and Ramkaran Singh.
Generally, not more than 15 Arjuna awards are given in a calendar year but an exception was made this time because it is an Olympics year.
India won six medals, including two silver and four bronze, at the London Games, the country's best performance in an Olympics.
The Arjuna and Dronacharya awardees got statuettes, citations and cash prize of Rs 5 lakh each.
Image: President Pranab Mukherjee presents the Arjuna award to Parupalli Kashyap