National Sports Awards 2020: From Rani Rampal to Mariyappan Thangavelu, know your Khel Ratna nominees
Controversies aside, the annual national sports awards are a celebration of athletes' hard work and success. Here's a quick look at the five recommendations for the Khel Ratna honour.
It is that time of the year again. National sports awards, conferred each year in a glittering ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan on 29 August, may have lost their customary razzmatazz to coronavirus, but there's no stopping the controversies.
The sheer number of recommendations - 29 Arjuna, five Khel Ratnas, eight Dronacharya lifetime, five Dronacharya (regular), and 15 Dhyan Chand - by Justice (retired) Mukundkam Sharma-led selection committee has raised a few eyebrows already. There are suggestions that the panel has been too generous, and its largesse may actually diminish the awards.
That aside, the annual awards are a celebration of athletes' hard work and success. The Khel Ratna nominees were shortlisted from a promising pool of elite athletes, and the likes of Vikas Krishan and Amit Panghal (both boxing), Anjum Moudgil (shooting), Hima Das and Neeraj Chopra (both athletics), and Kidambi Srikanth (badminton) lost to the five that eventually made the cut.
Here's a quick lowdown on the athletes recommended for this year's Khel Ratna Award:
Rani Rampal: Indian woman's hockey team's talismanic captain, added as a late recommendation, has had a stellar international career. Rani played pivotal roles in securing India's berth for the Rio Olympics 2016, as well as the now deferred Tokyo Games. A versatile player with a knack of scoring important goals at opportune moments, Rani is the only hockey player to win the World Games Athlete of the Year Award. Still only 25, Rani is already a double Asian Games medallist (bronze in 2014, silver in 2018).
Vinesh Phogat: Let's first get done with the numbers, staggering as they are - two Commonwealth Games medals, two Asian Games medals, seven Asian Championships medals, and one podium finish at the World Championships indicate we are talking about a rare talent. Agreed, there's a clear lack of gold medals (she has two at CWG where the competition is not great, and one at the Asiad), but no one can contest the fact that Vinesh has been largely responsible for putting Indian women wrestling on the international stage after her cousin Geeta Phogat set the ball rolling at the Commonwealth Games in 2010. At 25, she still has quite a few years ahead of her, with an elusive Olympics success beckoning.
Rohit Sharma: Only three cricketers have got the honour before the understated Rohit Sharma, and the fact that the Indian opener has earned his spot alongside Sachin Tendulkar (1998), MS Dhoni (2007), and Virat Kohli (2018) shows his exponential growth over the past few years. Last year's World Cup saw Rohit in prime form, as he scored five hundreds and one half-century in nine innings, ending the event as its highest run-getter with a tally of 648 runs. Inching towards the 10,000-run mark in ODIs, Rohit has 35 international tons to his name (29 in ODIs, six in Tests), and is already being considered among all-time Indian batting greats.
Manika Batra: The Delhi-based paddler, 25, missed out on the top honour last year, but her 2018 exploits were too significant to be overlooked this time around. Though she hasn't done much since the 2018 high, Manika broke into the national consciousness with a glut of medals two seasons back.
Her tally at the 2018 Commonwealth Games read two golds (including one in singles, becoming the only Indian woman to do so), one silver and one bronze, and she pocketed one more bronze at the Asian Games same year in the mixed doubles category with Sharath Kamal. She continues to be the top-ranked Indian woman TT player in the world, occupying the 47th spot.
Mariyappan Thangavelu: The only Olympic medallist in the list, Paralympian high-jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu gets the top honour after bagging Arjuna and Padma Shri in 2017. The 25-year-old from Tamil Nadu won gold at the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in the men's high jump T-42 category, becoming the India's first Paralympian gold medalist since 2004.
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