Para-archer Sheetal Devi was honoured by the Arjuna award© Twitter
India’s best-performing athletes were on Tuesday conferred with the national sports awards by President Droupadi Murmu in a regal ceremony where cricketer Mohammed Shami and para archer Sheetal Devi walked in to a rapturous applause at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Shuttlers Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy were chosen for the coveted Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award for a breakout 2023, during which they won their maiden Asian Games gold — a first for India in badminton –, while also clinching the Asian Championships title and the Indonesia Open Super 1000 title.
The duo is currently playing in Malaysia Open Super 1000 and therefore skipped the function.
The awards ceremony, usually held on August 29 to commemorate the birth anniversary of hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand, was deferred because of the Hangzhou Asian Games from September 23 till October 8 last year.
An atmosphere of gaiety pervaded the Rashtrapati Bhawan as 26 athletes and para-athletes were finalised for the Arjuna Awards this year, with teenager pistol ace Esha Singh the only one to miss the ceremony.
The 19-year-old Esha is competing in the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Jakarta and, on Monday, had qualified for the Paris Olympics after winning the individual and team gold in 10m air pistol.
The imprint of the Asian Games last year, and India’s record haul of 107 medals there, was evident in the ceremony as a majority of the athletes, who walked to the dais, were medal winners in Hangzhou.
The Durbar Hall reverberated with the claps of the dignitaries when para archer Sheetal Devi, winner of three gold medals at the Para Asian Games in Hangzhou, walked up to collect her Arjuna.
The 16-year-old is the only international para-archery champion without upper limbs due to a rare medical condition called Phocomelia. The President held Sheetal’s award and the scroll as the teenager soaked in the atmosphere and the splendour of the hall.
Heartfelt congratulations to Sheetal Devi on being bestowed with the Arjuna Award for her extraordinary accomplishments in Para-Archery.
Sheetal, you are a role model for the nation and the world; you have made the world acknowledge your passion, zeal, and hard work. May you… pic.twitter.com/0kOrh4io0Q
— Anurag Thakur (@ianuragthakur) January 9, 2024
Murmu then walked down the podium to present the Arjuna to wheelchair-bound para-canoeist Prachi Yadav, winner of gold in Hangzhou, once again drawing a huge round of applause.
Shami, who is currently recovering from an ankle injury, was there to receive the honours and the crowd duly acknowledged his achievements by giving him and his art the pride of place with an ovation.
The pace bowler took 24 wickets in seven World Cup games last year.
“My aim is to keep myself fit as far as possible, as the next two tournaments and series are big. I will focus on fitness,” he told PTI at a sports ministry reception last night.
Also receiving a huge round of applause was the newly-crowned chess Grandmaster R. Vaishali, the elder sister of precocious chess talent R. Praggnanandhaa.
Vaishali was honoured for becoming the third woman from the country after Koneru Humpy and Dronavalli Harika to turn GM.
Other sporting bigwigs who were chosen for the Arjuna award this year were wrestler Antim Panghal, a former junior world champion and bronze-winner at the senior event last year, boxer Mohammad Hussamuddin (bronze-winner at last year’s world championship), and athlete Parul Chaudhary.
Among the notable Dronacharya awardees this year is chess coach RB Ramesh, who has groomed Praggnanandhaa.
While the Khel Ratna comes with a cash prize of Rs 25 lakh, the Arjuna and Dronacharya awards include a cash prize of Rs 15 lakh.
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