New Delhi: Olympic champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, India opener Shikhar Dhawan, veteran woman cricketer Mithali Raj and history-making Paralympic stars shared the spotlight as an unprecedented 12 sportspersons were presented with India's highest sporting honour — the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna — by President Ram Nath Kovind here on Saturday.
In a glittering function organised at the Durbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhawan here, the President also bestowed 35 sportspersons with the Arjuna award as he recognised the country's unparalleled Olympic and Paralympic performances this year.
The event became an in-person affair this time after going online the previous year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The star attraction of the evening was Chopra, who received his Khel Ratna award amid thunderous applause from the select dignitaries present on the specially organised function.
Chopra, who became India's first Olympic medallist in athletics and the first gold-medallist in 13 years, was the first among the Khel Ratna awardees to receive the honour.
Besides the 23-year-old star, other recipients of the Khel Ratna recognition, were Olympic bronze-winning Indian men's hockey team captain Manpreet Singh, veteran goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, Olympic silver-medallist wrestler Ravi Dahiya, Olympic bronze-winning boxer Lovlina Borgohain and Mithali, who became the first woman cricketer to get the award.
Sunil Chhetri became the first footballer to be bestowed the award, a well-deserved recognition for keeping pace with the likes of Lionel Messi in scoring international goals.
Paralympic gold-winners Avani Lekhara (Shooting), Sumit Antil (Athletics), Pramod Bhagat (Badminton), Krishna Nagar (Badminton), Manish Narwal (Shooting) were also given the Khel Ratna.
Along with 12 Khel Ratnas, India this year honoured 35 Arjuna awardees, including cricketer Shikhar Dhawan, Olympic bronze-winning men's hockey team and other medal winners from Paralympic Games.
The long list this year was a result of the historic medal hauls at the Olympics (7) and Paralympics (19).
The event is traditionally held on August 29 every year to commemorate the birth anniversary of hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand.
The Khel Ratna award carries a cash prize purse of Rs 25 lakh, a medal a scroll of honour.
The Arjuna award carries a prize money of Rs 15 lakh, a bronze statue and a scroll of honour.
Present at Saturday's ceremony was sports minister Anurag Thakur along with a host of other dignitaries, including his predecessor Kiren Rijiju.
Given the unprecedented Olympic and Paralympic performances by Indian athletes this year, the number of awardees shot up this year.
The Khel Ratna award is given for the spectacular and most outstanding performances by a sportsperson over a period of previous four years.
India's haul of 19 in the Paralympics included five gold, eight silver and six bronze medals.
Besides, a total of 10 coaches were conferred with the Dronacharya awards this year.
In the life-time achievement category, T P Ouseph (Athletics), Sarkar Talwar (Cricket), Sarpal Singh (Hockey), Ashan Kumar (Kabaddi) and Tapan Kumar Panigrahi (Swimming) received the honour.
The winners in the regular Dronacharya category were: Radhakrishnan Nair P (Athletics), Sandhya Gurung (Boxing), Pritam Siwach (Hockey), Jai Prakash Nautiyal (Para Shooting) and Subramanian Raman (Table Tennis).
Gurung, besides being an assistant coach in the national camp, is also the personal coach of Borgohain, who was bestowed with the Arjuna award last year.
Sajjan Singh (Wrestling) won the Dhyan Chand Award for Lifetime achievement along with former world and Asian champion boxer Lekha K C, Abhijeet Kunte (Chess), Davinder Singh Garcha (Hockey) and Vikas Kumar (Kabaddi).
This year's awards selection committee was headed by Justice (Retd.) Mukundakam Sharma (former Judge of Supreme Court) and included three-time Paralympic medal-winning javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia, former cricketer Venkatesh Prasad, and ex-world champion boxer L Sarita Devi among others.
Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award: Neeraj Chopra (Athletics), Ravi Kumar(Wrestling), Lovlina Borgohain (Boxing), P R Sreejesh (Hockey), Avani Lekhara (Para Shooting), Sumit Antil (Para Athletics), Pramod Bhagat (Para Badminton), Krishna Nagar (Para Badminton), Manish Narwal (Para Shooting), Mithali Raj (Cricket), Sunil Chhetri (Football), Manpreet Singh (Hockey).
Arjuna Awards: Arpinder Singh (Athletics), Simranjit Kaur (Boxing), Shikhar Dhawan (Cricket), CA Bhavani Devi (Fencing), Monika (Hockey), Vandana Katariya (Hockey), Sandeep Narwal (Kabaddi), Himani Uttam Parab (Mallakhamb), Abhishek Verma (Shooting), Ankita Raina (Tennis), Deepak Punia (Wrestling), Dilpreet Singh (Hockey), Harman Preet Singh (Hockey), Rupinder Pal Singh (Hockey), Surender Kumar (Hockey), Amit Rohidas (Hockey), Birendra Lakra (Hockey), Sumit (Hockey), Nilakanta Sharma (Hockey), Hardik Singh (Hockey), Vivek Sagar Prasad (Hockey), Gurjant Singh (Hockey), Mandeep Singh (Hockey), Shamsher Singh (Hockey), Lalit Kumar Upadhyay (Hockey), Varun Kumar (Hockey), Simranjeet Singh (Hockey), Yogesh Kathuniya (Para Athletics) Nishad Kumar (Para Athletics), Praveen Kumar(Para Athletics), Suhash Yathiraj (Para Badminton) Singhraj Adhana (Para Shooting), Bhavina Patel (Para Table Tennis), Harvinder Singh (Para Archery) and Sharad Kumar (Para Athletics).
Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar: Manav Rachna Educational Institution and Indian Oil Corporation Limited for encouragement to sports through Corporate Social Responsibility.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (MAKA) Trophy: Panjab University, Chandigarh.