Mary Kom, Vijender and Sushil get Khel Ratna
New Delhi (PTI): For the first time ever, three top sportspersons -- boxers M C Mary Kom and Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar -- were on Wednesday selected for the country's highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.
While the prestigious award has been previously shared by two sportspersons in 1996-97 and 2002-03, it is the first time that three have been picked for the coveted honour for their outstanding performance in 2008-09.
Four-time world champion M C Mary Kom and Olympic bronze medallist Vijender are the first boxers to get the award which carries an enhanced prize money of Rs 7.5 lakh and a citation.
Also a bronze medallist from Beijing Olympics, Sushil is ended wrestling 56-year-old wait for a medal at the world's biggest sporting extravaganza.
"Normally, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award is given to only one sportsperson in a year. However, taking into consideration the spectacular performance of Vijender and Sushil, the Government has accepted the recommendation of the Selection Committee to confer the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award on both of them as a special case, in addition Mary Kom," the sports ministry said in a statement.
Star cricketer Gautam Gambhir, badminton sensation Saina Nehwal, world record holder double trap shooter Ranjan Sodhi, veteran hockey player Ignace Tirkey and chess player Tania Sachdev were among the 15 athletes selected for the Arjuna awards.
The 20-year-old Saina is currently the world number six after winning the Indonesian Super Series and a couple of other titles on the circuit.
Former All England champion and Saina's coach Pullela Gopichand and Satpal Singh, who trained Sushil for Beijing Olympics, were among those picked for the Dronacharya award.
The awards would be given away by President Pratibha Patil at a glittering function at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on August 29, celebrated as the National Sports Day.
The 25-year-old Mary Kom, a pin weight (46kg) pugilist, has won medals at all the five World Championships held so far, including an unprecedented fourth successive gold that she clinched at last year's edition held in China.
The Manipuri had previously won the Arjuna award in 2004 before being conferred with the Padma Shri a couple of years later in 2006.
"I feel very honoured. Besides, this award has given me the motivation to continue," she told PTI.
The mother of two, who is International Boxing Association's ambassador for women's boxing, was overlooked for last year's Khel Ratna, which had gone to Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Vijender (75kg) became the first Indian boxer to clinch an Olympic medal when he won the middleweight bronze in Beijing. The 22-year-old won a bronze medal at the Asian Championships in China last month.
Sushil, on the other hand, won a gold medal at the German Grand Prix tournament in Dortmond last month, his first competitive event since winning the Olympic bronze.
Mary Kom has been consistency personified ever since she donned the gloves and won a silver medal in the very first World Championship she competed in.
She didn't look back after that and won a gold in all the later four editions.
Remarkably, Mary Kom's fourth World Championship gold came after she had been away from the ring for almost two years following the birth of her twin sons.
So stunning was her performance last year that AIBA dubbed her 'Magnificent Mary' and made her the face of its campaign for the inclusion of women's boxing in the 2012 London Olympics.
Indian women's boxing also made its presence felt in the list of Arjuna awardees this year with Mary Kom's state-mate L Saritha Devi.
Saritha (52kg) had won a silver medal at last year's World Championship and was a gold medallist at the event's 2006 edition held in New Delhi.
Gambhir is the first male cricketer in six years to get the Arjuna on the back of his consistent performance in both Tests and ODIs in 2008. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was last cricketer to have got the honour in 2003. Woman cricketer Anjum Chopra had won the award in 2007.