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September 1, 1999


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India's top sportspersons honoured

Cricketer Rahul Dravid, athlete Jyotirmoyee Sikdar, boxer N.G. Dingko Singh and hockey Olympian Mohammad Riaz led a star parade as President K.R. Narayanan conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Dronacharya and Arjuna awards on 33 sportspersons at a glittering ceremony at the Ashoka hall of Rashtrapati Bhawan today.

The President also presented the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad trophy to Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), Amritsrar. The university bagged the prestigious trophy for a record 14th time.

The majestic Ashoka hall reverberated with cheers as sportspersons who did the country proud walked up to receive their respective awards.

One Rajiv Khel Ratna, three Dronacharya and 29 Arjuna awards were presented to sportspersons representing various disciplines at the ceremony which lasted 50 minutes. Only weightlifter Satisha Rai was not present to receive the award.

Golden girl Jyotirmoyee Sikdar, who won two gold medals in the 800 and 1,500 metres at the Bangkok Asian Games, was first on stage to receive the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award. Four years ago in the same hall, she had received the coveted Arjuna award.

Sikdar said she was ''thrilled and extremely happy" to be the first athlete to receive the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna. ''I had won the Arjuna award in 1995, but it is a great feeling to be the first athlete to have this honour since its inception eight years ago,'' she said.

Before Sikdar, two weightlifters, one each from chess, billiards, yatching (joint), tennis and cricket, had received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.

Rahul Dravid specially flew down from Colombo to receive the Arjuna award, which he described as a "great honour". "I am proud of getting it; it will further motivate me to give my best for the country in future,'' said the master batsman.

"It is a great feeling to receive this honour. It is a lifetime achievement," declared India wicketkeeper Nayan Mongia.

Asked when he would return to the Indian team, Mongia said: "I am very much looking forward to getting back into the team. I think my hand will be okay in two weeks time. I hope to be ready for the Kenya tour."

National athletics coaches Bahadur Singh and Hargobind Sandhu, and boxing coach G.S. Sandhu received the Dhronacharya awards.

The gala ceremony also had its share of emotion as the widow of former India hockey captain Surjit Singh Chanchal rose from her seat to receive the Arjuna award from the President. Chanchal, a former national hockey player, received the maximum applause as she walked down the podium with the bronze statuette, posthumously awarded to her husband 16 years after his death in a car accident.

Former hockey Olympian Baldev Singh said it was nice that the government has "at last recognised his services to the game". "It is a good feeling to get the recognition, but if I had got it during my playing days it would have been altogether a different thing.''

Sprinter Paramjit Singh said the award will motivate him further. ''This honour will help me perform better in the future. A sportsperson who has not received this award always has a sense of unfulfilment. At least I will tell the coming generation that I did some thing to earn this honour,'' the lanky runner who broke Milkha Singh's 38-year-old 400 metres record, clocking 45.7 seconds, said.

Asked whether Milkha Singh had given him the promised one lakh rupees for breaking his record, Paramjit said, ''Not yet, I am still waiting.''

The 400 metres champion said he is preparing for the Sydney Olympics. ''I can't say much about the individual event, but I am concentrating on the relay. We have a very strong 4x400 metres squad and I am confident we can give a good performance.''

Dingko Singh, India's boxing hero at the Bangkok Asiad, was modest in his moment of glory. ''I am honoured. I will have to live up to the expectations of my countrymen, so I will have to work hard.''

Bhaichung Bhutia, the only Indian footballer to receive an offer to play in the English league, said: ''It is a great thing to receive the Arjuna award on the eve of my departure for England.''
The ace striker will play for Bury FC in the English second division league this season.

The roll of honour:
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna: Jyotirmoyee Sikdar.
Dronacharya award: Bahadur Singh and Hargobind Sandhu (athletics), G S Sandhu (boxing).
Arjuna award: Neelam J Singh, Rachita Mistry, Sirichand Ram, S D Eshnan and Paramjit Singh (athletics); N G Dingko Singh (boxing); T V Pauly (weightlifting); Rahul Dravid, Nayan Mongia (cricket); Bhaichung Bhutia (football); Pritam Rani, S Omana Kumari (women's hockey); Surjit Singh (posthumous), Baljit Singh Dhillion, Mohd. Riaz, Baldev Singh and M K Kaushik (men's hockey); Narender Singh (judo), Ashan Kumar, Biswajit Palit (kabaddi); Shoba Narayan (kho-kho); Roopa Unnikrishnan, Manavjit Singh (shooting); Bhanu Sachdeva (swimming); Subramaniam Raman (table tennis); Kaka Pawar, Rohtas Singh Dahiya (wrestling).
Physical handicapped category: Ms Anju Dua (gymnastics); Rajini Ramanujam (athletics).

Maulana Abul Kalam trophy: Guru Nanak Dev (GNDU), Amritsar.


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