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Sunday, September 30, 2001

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Arjuna Awards presented

By Our Sports Reporter

NEW DELHI, SEPT. 29. The much-debated, much-degraded Arjuna Awards, which got publicity this year for all the wrong reasons, were presented by the President, Mr. K. R. Narayanan, at a simple ceremony at the Ashoka Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan here on Saturday.

Postponed from August 29, when the President was indisposed, the function, or at least the fate of a couple of awardees, might have been in doubt till Friday when the Delhi High Court cleared the decks for the Union Sports Ministry to go ahead with it as scheduled.

Yet, the focus remained on the two ladies, Rachna Govil and Kalpana Debnath, whose names were mentioned in the court case filed by discus thrower Anil Kumar. Of course, the absence of Milkha Singh, who stuck to his decision to refuse the `life-time contribution' award, only brought into focus, as never before, the `politics' involved in the selection process.

Deservedly, the widow of the Helsenki Olympic Games bronze medallist wrestler K. D. Jadhav, Ms. Kusumtai Jadhav, received the biggest applause from the audience as she went up to collect the bronze statuette of Arjuna and the scroll of honour from the President.

The cynosure of this evening's ceremony was the All England badminton champion, Pullela Gopi Chand, who was conferred with the highest award for sporting excellence, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award.

Gopi Chand became only the second sportsperson, after Karnam Malleshwari, to get the Arjuna and Khel Ratna awards in successive years. Last year he received Arjuna Award following his exploits in the international events. Sydney Olympic Games bronze medallist Malleshwari had won the Arjuna Award in 1994 and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 1995.

``It doesn't get any bigger than this,'' Gopi Chand said after receiving the award. ``It is an highest honour for a sportsman and I am all the more happy that my sport, badminton, has finally got this prestigious award,'' Gopi Chand said.

It was a unique occasion as along with Gopi Chand his mentor Mr. S. M. Arif, was also honoured, with the Dronacharya Award. ``It is a great honour to receive this award with him (Gopi Chand),'' Mr. Arif said.

There were three absentees, cricketer Venkatesh Prasad, woman hockey player Tingoliema Chanu, and hockey Olympian R. S. Bhola.

As expected legendary quartermiler Milka Singh, who had announced his decision not to accept the award, stayed away from the ceremony. Ironically, the book published by the Ministry of Sports detailing achievements of the awardees, did not carry Milkha Singh's photograph. The Home Minister, Mr. L. K. Advani, the Sports Minister, Ms. Uma Bharti, the Minister of State for Sports, Mr. Pon Radhakrishnan, the Minister of Civil Aviation, Mr. Shahnawaz Hussain were among other dignitaries who attended the ceremony.

Unlike in the past, there were not many sports personalities of yesteryears in the Ashoka Hall. Olympian hurdler, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, made it a point to attend the function. No top official of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was present, but there was a sprinkling of federation officials.

The following is the complete list of awardees:

Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award: Pullela Gopi Chand (badminton).

Dronacharya awards: Gurdial Singh Bhangu (hockey), Hansa Sharma (weightlifting), Gopal Purushottam Phadke (kho-kho), S. M. Arif (badminton) and Bhupender Dhawan (powerlifting).

Arjuna awards: K. M. Beenamol (athletics), Venkatesh Prasad (cricket), Baljeet Singh Saini (hockey), Tingoleima Chanu (hockey), Anjali Vedpathak (shooting), Abhinav Bindra (shooting), Sebastian Xavier (swimming), J. Abhijith (swimming), Randhir Singh (wrestling), Kripa Shankar Patel (wrestling), George Thomas (badminton), C. Honnappa (kabbadi), S. Vijayalakshmi (chess) and Sanamacha Chanu (weightlifting).

Handicapped: Yadvendra Vashishta (athletics) and Vijay Bhalchandra Munishwar (athletics and powerlifting).

Life time contribution: Kalpana Debnath (gymnastics), R. S. Bhola (hockey), Balkishan Singh (hockey), Jalaluddin Rizvi (hockey), Madhu Yadav (hockey), Gurbir Singh Sandhu (shooting), K.D. Jadhav (wrestling-posthumous), Naresh Kumar (wrestling), Milkha Singh (athletics), Rachna Govil (athletics), Vijayamala Bhanot (athletics), Akhtar Ali (tennis), P. V. Ramana (volleyball), Surender Singh Kanwasi (rowing). Handicapped: Joginder Singh Bedi (athletics).

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