'Dronacharya award is a huge honour'
For the first time three top sportspersons -- boxers M C Mary Kom and Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar -- were selected for the country's highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.
"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 to Mary Kom," the Sports Ministry said on Wednesday.
It was a matter of elation for Gopichand after he became the first Indian to win all three national sports awards -- the Arjuna, Khel Ratna and Dronacharya.
Gopichand said the Dronacharya award only increased his responsibility to give more back to the game that gave him everything.
"The magnitude of the awards doesn't sink in immediately for somebody like me who never thought much about the awards," Gopichand said.
"As a player, winning the All England was important, but when I got Arjuna, the feeling took time to settle in.
Similarly, when I look back at the Khel Ratna, I feel very proud. It is same with the Dronacharya. It is a huge honour," added the soft-spoken shuttler-turned-coach.
"I will also look at it as a responsibility as well. It is something I am proud of," he added.
Gopichand won the Arjuna award in 1995 and received country's highest sporting honour -- the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna -- in 2001.
One of the most decorated shuttlers of the country, he also won the Padma Shri in 2005.
Image: Pullela Gopichand shows his All England medal during a press conference in New Delhi in March 2001
'This award has given me fresh motivation'
Late it might be, but four-time World champion M C Mary Kom says the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna has motivated her to aim for India's first boxing gold medal at the Olympics if women's boxing is included in the 2012 London Games.
"I can't describe in words how happy I am at finally getting this award which had been a long-cherished dream. Yes, it has come a bit late but I am glad to have got it," Mary Kom, the first woman boxer to be conferred the country's highest sporting honour, said.
"I have become a mother of two and as I juggle the twin jobs of caring for my family and boxing, this award has given me fresh motivation.
"If women's boxing is included in the 2012 London Olympic Games then I would aim to get a gold medal there," the 25-year-old, who has won an astonishing four successive gold medals at the World Championships, said.
Image: MC Mary Kom
In the Box seat
Vijender Singh (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.
"Vijender and Sushil's achievements are huge and initially I thought, they were going to get the award jointly this year. I am glad all three of us have got the award," Mary Kom said.
"That boxing has got two Khel Ratnas is also a cause for celebration for me," she added.
Image: Vijender Singh
Sushil ended wrestling's long wait
Sushil Kumar, 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.
Also a bronze medallist from the Beijing Olympics, Sushil ended wrestling's 56-year-old wait for a medal at the world's biggest sporting extravaganza.
He, along with the other winners, will receive the award, from President Pratibha Patil at a glittering function at Rashtrapati Bhawan on August 29, celebrated as the National Sports Day.
Image: Sushil Kumar
'More such titles will follow'
With the World Badminton Championship round the corner, Arjuna awardee Saina Nehwal cannot afford a celebration at the cost of practice.
Reacting after being named for the Arjuna award, the 20-year-old said it would spur her to greater glory, and doing well in next month's World Championship at her hometown Hyderabad would be the most befitting celebration.
"I am very happy. It feels really nice to get recognised for my efforts. It gives me a lot of encouragement and motivation to carry on the good work. I feel elated.
"I had a series of good performances of late. I won two titles and overall it has been a good year for me. So, to be honest, I was expecting it.
"Now that I have won it, I would like to practise and train much harder and do well in the World Championship. I feel that would be the best way to celebrate," said Saina, who won the Indonesian Open Super Series in June and Chinese Taipei Grand Prix Gold last year.
Saina's string of sterling performances helped her attain the world number six ranking. Now the diminutive shuttler from Hyderabad says her hunger has only been whetted.
"It is just the start and I know if I can keep putting in the necessary hard work, more such titles will follow," she said.
Image: Saina Nehwal
Consistency was the key for Gambhir
Gautam Gambhir is the first male cricketer in six years to get the Arjuna on the back of consistent performances in both Tests and ODIs in 2008.
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was the last cricketer to be conferred the honour in 2003.
Woman cricketer Anjum Chopra won the award in 2007.
Gambhir has enjoyed a purple patch with the bat in all three forms of the game since India's World T20 World Cup win in 2007.
Image: Gautam Gambhir
Beauty with brains
Chess player Tania Sachdev was among the 15 sportspersons selected for the Arjuna award.
Introduced to the game by her mother Anju, the 22-year-old became the eighth Indian Woman Grandmaster after S.Vijayalakshmi, Koneru Humpy, S.Meenakshi, Aarthie Ramaswamy, Nisha Mohota, Swati Ghate and Dronavalli Harika.
Tania won her first international title when she was just eight.
She has already won the World and Asian junior titles.
In September 2007, Tania won the Asian Women's Chess Championship in Tehran after drawing with Chinese Ju Wenjun in the ninth and final round.
It turned out to first title victory for Tania apart from age-group tournaments as the National champion coasted to her maiden gold medal amongst seniors.
Image: Tania Sachdev