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SPORTING STARS

Filed on August 18, 2020

The National Sports Day on August 29 will witness President Ram Nath Kovind giving away the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, India's highest sporting honour, and other prestigious accolades to remarkable athletes.

The Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards are given to professional athletes for outstanding performance in their respective fields at international level over the previous four years (January 2016 to December 2019). The Dronacharya Award is given to coaches, the Dhyan Chand Award is the lifetime achievement sporting honour, Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar is given to bodies working towards development of sports in India, Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award recognises the achievement of persons associated in the field of adventure while the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy is awarded to the overall top performing university in the Inter-University tournaments. Here's a few upcoming start athletes from the list of different sports who have been nominated so far:

Khel Ratna Award

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Neeraj Chopra (Javelin Throw): The popular javelin thrower is the athletics federation's pick for the top honour. At 22, Neeraj has already established himself as one of the Indian greatest hopes for an Olympics medal in track and field, thanks to his world record-setting throw at the 2016 World U20 Championships in Poland. He then became the first Indian to win a gold medal at Commonwealth Games (CWG) as he captured the top prize in the 2018 edition. He went on to win another gold medal on Asian Games debut the same year and has been bettering the national record

Amit Panghal (Boxing): The 24-year-old boxer from Haryana is Boxing Federation of India's (BFI) choice for the Khel Ratna Award. The boxer has been in prime form having won numerous medals for India at the highest level. Last year, Panghal became the first Indian to win a silver medal (52 kg) at World Boxing Championships. In 2019, he also won the gold medal at Asian Championships after winning the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games. He also has a silver medal from 2018 CWG.

Rani Rampal (Hockey): The Indian women's team captain will be one of the favourites for Khel Ratna Award. She led India to silver at 2018 Asian Games while her crucial goal in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers in 2019 gave India the ticket for 2020 Summer Games. India also reached the world number nine rankings under her leadership. Rani won the Arjuna Award in 2016 and this year she was honoured with the Padma Shri.

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Manika Batra (Table Tennis): The paddler would be a strong candidate for the top honour considering her record-breaking performances in recent years. At 2018 CWG, Batra became the first Indian female player to win a singles gold medal. She also led India to women's team gold apart from winning the silver in doubles and bronze in mixed doubles. In Asian Games the same year, she created history by winning mixed doubles bronze with Sharath Kamal. She is currently the world number 63.

Kidambi Srikanth (Badminton):  Srikanth has been the top-ranked Indian in Men's badminton for some time now. He had a fairly successful 2018, where he won gold in the mixed team event, and a silver in the singles event at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Srikanth briefly achieved the World No 1 ranking after that. However, in 2019, the top shuttler struggled with form and fitness before winning gold in South Asian Games in Nepal later that year.

Arjuna Award nominees

Arpinder Singh (Athletics):

The triple jumper made India proud by capturing the gold medal at 2018 Asian Games. He also has the 2018 IAAF continental Cup bronze and Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games gold in his kitty.

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Manjit Singh (Athletics): Manjit's gold medal win at 2018 Asian Games stunned the whole field including compatriot Jinson Johnson to win the top prize for India after a wait of 36 years in 800m. He also set his personal best timing of 1:46:15 on his way to a memorable gold medal.

PU Chitra (Athletics): The middle distance runner won the 1500m bronze at 2018 Asian Games. She has two gold medals from Asian Athletics Championships from 2017 and 2019, and another one from 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. She also won the top prize at 2016 South Asian Games.

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty

(Badminton): The men's doubles pairing of Satwik and Chirag have established themselves as one of the best men's doubles pairs in the world. They clinched the Thailand Open title win last year and also claimed a historic gold medal at the 2018 CWG where they also won the men's doubles silver. They were also on the cusp of securing a Tokyo Olympics 2020 qualifying spot when the badminton calendar ground to a halt due to Covid-19.

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Sameer Verma (Badminton): Verma had a consistent 2018, winning three titles and ascending to a career-high No 11 in the world. His performances also earned him a place among the best eight at the BWF World Tour Finals 2018, where he progressed to the semi-finals on debut.

Manish Kaushik (Boxing): The 63-kg category boxer has had a fruitful last two years with a silver medal at 2018 CWG and a bronze at maiden World Championships last year which also earned him qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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Lovlina Borgohain (Boxing): The 69-kg category boxer has won the bronze medal twice at the World Championships with the last one coming at the 2019 edition. She qualified for the 2020 Olympics at the Asian qualifiers.

Simranjit Kaur (Boxing): The 64-kg category boxer's biggest achievement came in 2018 when she won a bronze at 2018 World Championships, she then went on to capture the silver at 2019 Asian Championships. She has also qualified for the Olympics.

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Deepti Sharma (Cricket): She is the only women's cricketer to be nominated for Arjuna Award. She was part of the India side which reached finals of ODI and T20I World Cups in last three years. An all-rounder, Deepti has scored 1,417 and 423 runs in ODIs and T20Is respectively while taking 64 and 53 wickets in each formats.

Rashid Khan (Golf): Rashid Khan is India's top-ranked male golfer at the moment, ranked 10th in Asia and 185th globally. Khan, who helped the Indian team win silver in the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, has been ranked the No 1 Indian on the domestic PGTI tour on three different occasions, including the 2019 season.

Aditi Ashok (Golf): Aditi is the only Indian golfer to be currently playing in the Ladies PGA tour in the US, and has three wins to her credit in the Ladies European Tour. She also represented the country in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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Diksha Dagar (Golf): Dagar recently won the Women's South African Open, and looked set to book her ticket for Tokyo before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the organisers to delay the event by a year. She had also won silver in the 2017 Deaflympics.

Vandana Kataria (Hockey): The forward has been part of India's silver winning team from 2018 Asian Games and was also part of the side that won the Asia Cup in 2017. She has over 200 international caps for India.

Monika (Hockey): Another star player of women's team, Monika has made over 150 appearances for the Indian team. She was also part of the silver-winning 2018 Asian Games side and 2017 Asia Cup winning unit.

Harmanpreet Singh (Hockey): The hard-hitting dragflicker has been an integral part of the India men's team for a while. He played a crucial role in India's win in FIH Series Finals in 2019 and led the team to victory in Tokyo 2020 Olympics Test Event in absence of regular captain Manpreet Singh.

Saurabh Chaudhary (Shooting): The shooter is currently ranked No 4 in the world in the ISSF standings. Besides winning gold at the 2018 Asian Games, Saurabh also clinched the yellow metal at the Youth Olympic Games. The following year, he claimed gold medals at the New Delhi and Rio de Janeiro World Cups, in the process sealing a quota for the Tokyo Olympics.

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Abhishek Verma (Shooting): The experienced shooter is currently second in the ISSF rankings for the 10m air pistol event. He won a quota for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by winning gold at the Beijing World Cup last year. He followed that up with another gold at the Rio World Cup. He also has a bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Games, which bolsters his claim for the Arjuna.

Manu Bhaker (Shooting): Bhaker is currently World No 2 in the women's 10m air pistol standings. Just like Saurabh she snapped up gold at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018. She also has gold medals at the Putian World Cup Final and the Asian Shooting Championships in 2019 to her credit.

Elavenil Valarivan (Shooting): The youngster, mentored by Olympic bronze medallist Gagan Narang, is currently the reigning World No 1 in the 10m air rifle women's rankings, a monumental feat considering the presence of shooters like Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela in the category. This led her to stake claim to the prestigious ISSF Golden Target Award at the end of last year. She won silver at the 2018 Junior World Championship before making the step up to the senior ranks and winning gold at the season-ending World Cup Finals in 2019.

Suthirtha Mukherjee (Table Tennis): She recently broke into the top-100 in the world and was also part of the women's team that won gold at 2018 CWG.

Madhurika Patkar (Table Tennis): She was also part of the women's team that defeated Singapore in 2018 CWG to win the gold medal. She was the national singles champion in 2017.

Manav Thakkar (Table Tennis): Thakkar recently got into the history books by becoming the first India player to be ranked world No 1 in the Under-21 category.

Mirabai Chanu (Weightlifting): The federation nominated her for Arjuna Award this year. It was the gold medal win at the 2017 World Championships event in 48-kg category that won her the Khel Ratna award. She also set a games record to win gold at 2018 CWG. However, she has been struggling with injuries since then. In 2019, she lifted 86 kg in snatch and a personal best of 113 kg in clean and jerk for a total of 199 kg at the Asian Championships, but marginally missed the bronze medal. She breached the much-anticipated 200-kg mark at the World Championships last year.

Ragala Venkat Rahul (Weightlifting): Rahul has won several medals at the junior level and two gold medals at Commonwealth Championships but his biggest win came in 2018 when he won the top prize at CWG.

Punam Yadav (Weightlifting): The 24-year-old weightlifter had won the silver medal at the Commonwealth Senior Weightlifting Championships and the gold at 2018 Gold Coast Games.

Deepak Punia (Wrestling): After winning gold at Asian Junior Championships and World Cadet Championships, Deepak stunned the world by winning the yellow metal at World Junior Championships in the 86-kg category in 2019. He then went onto win a silver at senior championships last year to qualify for Olympics.

Rahul Aware (Wrestling): Aware has been around for a long time but has witnessed a sharp turnaround in his career lately leading to his nomination. He won the gold in the 57-kg category at 2018 CWG, captured bronze at Asian Championships in 2019 and 2020 before winning his biggest prize, a bronze at World Championships in the 61-kg category.

Sandeep Tomar (Wrestling): The 57-kg category wrestler has been making India proud in different competitions. Sandeep won the Commonwealth Wrestling Championships gold in 2016 and the top prize at Asian Wrestling Championships the same year.

Naveen (Wrestling): The Greco-Roman wrestler Naveen has also been nominated for the Arjuna Award this year.


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