New Delhi, Aug 31 (IANS) Double trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi was conferred India's highest sporting honour - the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna - in a dazzling ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan Saturday. Virat Kohli's meteoric rise in world cricket too was recognised as he received the Arjuna Award.
President Pranab Mukherjee presented Arjuna, Dronacharya, Dhyan Chand and Rashtriya Khel Protsahan awards among others. 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 top sports award 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.
"It is a great motivation for me ahead of the upcoming World Championships in Peru," added Sodhi, also an Arjuna awardee.
The gold medallist at the 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 for Worlds, which will act as a qualification event for the World Cup Finals in October.
Stylish batsman Kohli, one of the 15 Arjuna Awardees, stole the limelight when the 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. Sindhu 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 tested positive for a banned substance in an athletics meet held in Kochi in 2008 and according to ministry guidelines, a dope offender can't be chosen for the award.
Sports Minister Jitendra Singh told IANS that his ministry will investigate the matter and decide 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 a call," he said.
The felicitation ceremony usually takes place on the National Sports Day Aug 29 but was postponed because of the minister'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 him 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 selection panel's choice.
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)
Purnima 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.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (MAKA) Trophy: Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 2010-11; Punjabi University, Patiala, 2011-12 and 2012-13.
Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Awards: Basanta Singh Roy, Major Ranveer Singh Jamwal (land adventure), Lt. Cdr. Abhilash Tomy (water adventure), Naib Subedar Parmjit Singh Sidhu (air adventure), Prem Singh and Hira Ram (lifetime achievement).