Panel recommends Dronacharya Awards for Bansal, Kutty

Khel Ratna for badminton star Saina Nehwal and recognition for football after eight years were the highlights of the recommendations for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Arjuna Awards made by two specially-constituted panels here on Friday.

It must have been extremely disappointing for wrestler Ramesh Kumar, the only World championship medallist in the entire list of Khel Ratna and Arjuna award nominees. He had won a freestyle bronze at Herning, Denmark in September last year, a good 42 years after Vishambhar Singh won a silver in freestyle. World championship medals have been rare in Indian sport.

Hockey coach A.K. Bansal was recommended for the Dronacharya Award. The selection panel, headed by hockey great Ashok Kumar, also picked L. Ibomcha Singh (boxing), Subhash Agarwal (billiards and snooker), A.K. Kutty (athletics) and Capt. Chand Roop (wrestling).

Kutty got the award after many futile bids and mainly because of changed rules allowing for two life-time awards.

Popular choice

Saina's was obviously a popular choice as she edged out Ramesh Kumar and shooter Gagan Narang. Among the titles Saina won in the last three years were the Indonesian Open (2009), Syed Modi Grand Prix (2009) and World junior title (2009). She climbed to No. 2 in world rankings recently following three major titles in a row in Chennai, Singapore and Indonesia.

She also became the first Indian woman to reach the semifinals of the All England and Asian championships.

Deepak Mondal is the footballer recommended along with two athletes, Krishna Poonia and Joseph Abraham. Hockey also has two awardees in Sandeep Singh and Jasjit Kaur. Others recommended by the panel headed by athletics legend P.T. Usha are Dinesh (kabaddi), Rehan Poncha (swimming), Sanjeev Rajput (shooting), Kapil Dev (volleyball), Dinesh Kumar (boxing), Parimarjan Negi (chess), Jhulan Goswami, Rajesh Choudhary (yachting) and Jagseer Singh (Paralympics).

Among those who missed out were judoka Ram Asre Yadav, a silver medallist at the Asian championship last year and rower Sukhjeet Singh, also a silver medallist in the Asian championships last year.

In boxing, the verdict went in favour of Dinesh Kumar ahead of Suranjoy Singh and Jitender Kumar. Dinesh won a World Cup bronze in 2008 and made the quarterfinals of the World championships next year. He also won an Asian championship bronze the same year.

Suranjoy won a gold in the President's Cup (in Azerbaijan) and also an Asian championship title in 2009. Jitender reached the quarterfinals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics apart from winning a World Cup bronze.

Mondal makes it

Award for Mondal, a veteran defender, must be heartening for the football fraternity. After Bruno Coutinho (2001) and I.M. Vijayan (2002) footballers were not considered for the award due to poor standards of the game. But obviously, the panel members were impressed by India's success in the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008 and the Nehru Cup last year.

Rehan Poncha, the ‘medley man' of Indian swimming for the past decade, has become the first swimmer to be honoured since Shikha Tandon received the award in 2005.

Though his achievements in the International arena are not much to speak of, Poncha was among the four Indian qualifiers for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

In last year's National championship, in the absence of young talents like Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal, Poncha hogged the limelight in the company of Richa Mishra.

Rajput had qualified for the Beijing Olympics. He had won the air rifle silver in a World Cup in Sydney this year.

He went on to win the rifle 3-position gold in the Commonwealth championship with a National record, apart from the team gold.

He has made the finals of six World Cups so far — three in air rifle and three in 3P. He had won the silver in the Asian championship.

The young Heena Sidhu, a student of dentistry, stood a better chance with her World Cup silver in Beijing last year, the best medal ever by an Indian pistol shooter, male or female, on the global stage but was pipped perhaps because she does not have the variety of achievements of the seasoned Rajput.

The recommendations for Dhyan Chand awards were Satish Pal (athletics), Kuldeep Singh (wrestling) and Anita Chanu (weightlifting).

The awards will be presented on August 29.

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