Rifle shooter Gagan Narang was conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award by President Pratibha Devisingh Patil at a glittering function in the Ashoka Hall of Rashtrapati Bhawan here Monday.
Narang was the highest medal winner for India in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and is the first Indian to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. The award carries a statuette, citation and cash prize of Rs.7.5 lakh.
The 28-year-old Hyderabadi was unhappy for having been ignored twice for the honour in 2009 and 2010.
"I am happy now that I have finally got it. It is a great honour and a very special day," Narang said. "The next goal is to perform well at the Olympics. I am working on my fitness. The pressure to do well is always there but I hope to come through."
Nineteen sportsmen this year were awarded the Arjuna award. Not more than 15 Arjuna awards are given in any calendar year but keeping in view the performance of Indian athletes in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games last year, the limit was increased.
Rahul Banerjee (archery), Preeja Sreedharan (athletics), Jwala Gutta (badminton), M. Suranjoy Singh (boxing), Sunil Chhetri (football), Rajpal Singh (hockey), Rakesh Kumar (kabaddi), Tejeswini Bai V (kabaddi-women), Tejaswini Sawant (shooting), Veerdhawal Khade (swimming), Sanjay Kumar (volleyball), Ravinder Singh (wrestling), Naib Subedar Katulu Ravikumar (weightlifting), Wangkhem Sandhyarani Devi (wushu) and Prasantha Karamakar (swimming paralympics) were conferred the Arjuna Awards. The award carries a statuette, citation and enhanced cash prize of Rs.5 lakh each.
Among the Arjuna awardees, Vikas Gowda (athletics), Zaheer Khan (cricket), Ashish Kumar (gymnastics) and Somdev Devvarman (tennis) could not attend the ceremony.
Somdev (US Open in New York), and Vikas (World Athletics Championships, South Korea) could not attend because of their participation in tournaments abroad while Zaheer is in London, recovering from an ankle injury, and Ashish is in Essex (England) training for the World Cup in Belgium.
A beaming Sandhya Rani, who made the switch from boxing to wushu in 2002, hoped the award will inspire more female athletes to take up the sport.
"I can't describe how I feel. I never expected it. I was a boxer at the national level in 54kg category but my love for martial arts drew me to wushu. I was one of the few girls to take it up but now a few more have come," Sandhya, who won a silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games, told IANS.
"We now hope we get to train in China or get a Chinese coach as it will help us train even better and get the sport in the country more popularity."
Chettri, 26, feels the award will encourage him to do even better. He was also the first Indian footballer to ply his trade in the US after he signed up for Major League Soccer (MLS) club Kansas City Wizards.
"It is definitely a good feeling. It is nice whenever your efforts are acknowledged. I will do my best to keep going and do well," he said.
The Petroleum Sports Promotion Board was awarded the "Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar" under the category of Financial Support for Sports Excellence Establishment. N. Ramachadran of Squash Academy, Chennai, also received the "Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar" for Establishment Management of Sports Academics of Excellence.
The ceremony was also attended by railway minister Dinesh Trivedi and sports minister Ajay Maken.
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)
Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Awards: Late Col. Balwant Singh Sandhu (Life Time Achievement Award [Posthumously]), Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu (Land Adventure), Mamta Sodha (Land Adventure) and Dilip Donde (Water Adventure).
Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar: Petroleum Sports Promotion Board, N. Ramachadran of Squash Academy.