New Delhi, Aug 31 (IANS) Double trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi was conferred the country's highest sporting honour - the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna - in a dazzling ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan here Saturday. Virat Kohli's meteoric rise in world cricket too was recognised as he received the Arjuna Award.
President Pranab Mukherjee had a busy evening presenting Arjuna, Dronacharya, Dhyan Chand and Rashtriya Khel Protsahan awards, besides others.
The ceremony was supposed to begin at 6 pm but the president arrived five minutes later than scheduled. The venue this time was Durbar Hall instead of the usual Ashoka Hall.
Sodhi was the first to be feted, getting a medal, citation and cash prize of Rs.7.5 lakh.
The 33-year-old is the seventh shooter after Abhinav Bindra (2001-02), Anjali Bhagwat (2002-03), Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (2004-05), Manavjit Singh Sandhu (2006-07), Gagan Narang (2010-11) and Vijay Kumar (2011-12) to get the Khel Ratna, which was instituted in 1991.
"I was thinking about the first day I went to the Karni Singh Shooting Range as a 16 year old and my whole life after that. Whatever I was able to achieve in all these years" Sodhi told IANS about what he felt while getting the award from the president.
"It (award) is a great motivation for me ahead of the upcoming World Championships in Peru," added Sodhi, who is also an Arjuna awardee. The gold medallist and at 2011 ISSF World Cup and 2010 Asian Games is heading off to Italy for a 12-day training camp Sunday morning before flying to Lima, Peru for Worlds, which will act as a qualification event for the World Cup Finals in Ocotber.
Stylish batsman Kohli, one of the 15 Arjuna Awardees, stole the limelight when the Arjuna Awards were announced while the biggest applause was reserved for para-athlete Amit Kumar Saroha. The recipients in the category got a cash prize of Rs.5 lakh besides statuettes and citations.
The notable absentees from the function were shuttler P.V. Sndhu and triple jumper Renjith Maheshwary.
Sindhu was in Mumbai for the Indian Badminton League final while Maheswary missed the event despite being in town, following doubts over his eligibility for the award.
He was tested positive for a banned substance in an athletics meet held in Kochi in 2008 and according to the ministry guidelines, a dope offender can't be chosen for the award.
Sports Minister Jitendra Singh told IANS that the sports ministry will investigate the matter and decide on Maheswary's case.
"We have asked NADA (National Anti Doping Agency) and AFI (Athletics Federation of India) to submit a report on the issue as soon as possible. Based on that, we will take e call," said Singh.
There was also something unusual about the felicitation ceremony Saturday. It usually takes place on the National Sports Day Aug 29 but it was postponed because of Jitendra Singh's unavailability.
Former World No.1 Sodhi got the due recognition in his third attempt but his special moment came at the back of a controversy. The selection committee had recommended the shooter for Khel Ratna but the decision did not go down too well with discus thrower Krishna Poonia and paralympic high jumper H.N. Girisha, who also staked their claim for the top honour.
After days of suspense, the sports ministry eventually stuck to the choice of the selection panel.
It was a memorable day for Nagaland archer Chekrovolu Swuro, who became first Arjuna Awardee from the north-eastern state.
Full awardees list:
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna: Ronjan Sodhi
Chekrovolu Swuro (Archery)
P.V. Sindhu (Badminton)
Kavita Chahal (Boxing)
Rupesh Shah (Snooker and Billiards)
Virat Kohli (Cricket)
Abhijeet Gupta (Chess)
Gaganjeet Bhullar (Golf)
Saba Anjum (Hockey)
Rajkumari Rathore (Shooting)
Joshna Chinappa (Squash)
Neha Rathi (Wrestling)
Dharmender Dalal (Wrestling)
Mouma Das (Table Tennis)
Amit Kumar Saroha (Para Athletics)
Poornima Mahato (Archery)
Mahavir Singh (Boxing)
Narinder Singh Saini (Hockey)
K.P. Thomas (Athletics)
Raj Singh (Wrestling)
Dhyan Chand Awards :
Mary D'souza Sequeira (Athletics)
Syed Ali (Hockey)
Anil Mann (Wrestling)
Girraj Singh (Para sports, Athletics)
Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar:
Community Sports Identification and Nurturing of Budding Young Talent: U.K. Mishra, Founder and President, National Sports Academy, Allahabad.
Financial Support for Sports Excellence: Services Sports Control Board.
Establishment and Management of Sports Academies of Excellence: Pullela Gopichand Academy of Badminton, Hyderabad.
Employment of Sportspersons and sports welfare measures: Petroleum Sports Promotion Board.