Double world record holder, rifle shooter Gagan Narang, loaded with the World championship bronze medal apart from a clutch of Commonwealth Games gold medals and the Asian Games silver, won the race for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, as the Union Sports Ministry convened meetings of eminent sportspersons to decide the Arjuna and Dronacharya awards for the year 2010 on Friday.
Narang, the 28-year-old Hyderabad lad, was left disappointed last year after his strong case for the Khel Ratna was overlooked.
He has won the World Cup gold twice as well as the gold in the World Cup Finals, a season-ending competition for top performers.
He won four gold medals in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games and repeated the feat at home last year. He had missed a berth in the air rifle final in the Beijing Olympics on a count-back after shooting 595 out of 600, one point short of the eventual gold medallist Abhinav Bindra.
Discus thrower Krishna Poonia, who won Indian athletics' second gold in the Commonwealth Games after Milkha Singh in 1958, was also in the reckoning for the Khel Ratna award, apart from tennis player Somdev Devvarman. The tennis ace won two gold medals in the Asian Games, including the first individual gold by an Indian, apart from the Commonwealth Games singles gold.
There were not many surprises in the Arjuna awards selection, as the Indian sportspersons had given a good account of themselves in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. Based on that argument alone, the Dinesh Khanna-led Arjuna award panel had recommended increasing the number to 19 instead of the normal 15.
The selection of cricketer Zaheer Khan and Ashish Kumar, who bagged the first medals for the country in gymnastics in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, came as no surprise. Swimmer Virdhawal Khade, who won the elusive Asian Games medal in Guangzhou, the first for the country after Khajan Singh's effort in 1986 in Seoul, was also an expected choice.
Another swimmer who had the distinction of winning the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games medals, Prasanta Karmakar, was selected for the award in the paralympic category.
Though the current dope cloud covering Indian athletics took its toll on the aspirants, Asian Games 10,000m gold medallist and silver medallist in 5,000m, Preeja Sreedharan, along with discus thrower Vikas Gowda, winner of the Commonwealth Games silver and Asian Games bronze, got the nod.
Two for kabaddi
Kabaddi has been India's strong point in the Asian Games and the introduction of women's kabaddi ensured two Arjuna awards for the discipline. The captains of the men's and women's teams, Rakesh Kumar and Tejaswini Bai, were chosen for the award.
Tejaswini Sawant, who joined the likes of Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra and trap marksman Manavjit Singh Sandhu while winning the world championship gold in shooting, also made the list. Archer Rahul Banerjee, a gold medallist in World Cups and individual champion in the Commonwealth Games, was another expected choice.
Asian champion and gold medallist in the Commonwealth Games, boxer Suranjoy Singh, Greco-Roman wrestler Ravinder Singh, winner of the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games, and weightlifter K. Ravi Kumar, providing a silver lining to the troubled sport, made the cut too.
Hockey captain Rajpal Singh, badminton ace Jwala Gutta, volleyball player Sanjay Kumar, footballer Sunil Chetri, who almost got it last year, and wushu silver medallist in the Asian Games, Sandhya Rani Devi, were the others to get the green signal.
Five coaches chosen for the Dronacharya award were Ram Phal (wrestling), Devendra Kumar Rathore (gymnastics), I. Venkateswara Rao (boxing), Rajender Singh (hockey) and Kunthal Kumar Roy (athletics).
Yashvir Singh, long-time coach of world champion and Olympic bronze medallist wrestler Sushil Kumar, withdrew his nomination on Thursday evening, possibly clearing the route for Ram Phal, coach of Yogeshwar Dutt.
Athletics coaches Rajinder Singh Saini and Virendar Poonia, who were in strong contention , missed the bus.