New Delhi: President Pratibha Patil gave away the national sports awards to top sportspersons in a glittering ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi on Saturday.
India's most successful women boxer Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom along with Olympic medallists Sushil Kumar and Vijender Singh were awarded the country's highest sports award - the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in the Ashok Hall of the Rashtrapathi Bhawan.
Mary Kom is a four-time world champion in boxing and this is the first time that Indian boxers have been bestowed with the country's highest sporting honour.
TIME TO HONOUR: President Pratibha Patil presents Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, 2009 to MC Mary Kom.
She dedicated her award to her two-year-old twin sons K Rechungvar Kom and K Khupneivar Kom.
"This is for my sons. They are my life. Had they been older, I would have brought them here," the 27-year-old four-time world champion said.
"It's the biggest moment of my career and I feel honoured," said Beijing Olympics bronze medallist Vijender, who will leave for the World Championships in Italy early on Sunday morning.
Wrestler Sushil Kumar who won the bronze medal in the 66 kg category at the Beijing Olympics received the Khel Ratna after Mary Kom and Vijender.
"I am happy that wrestling has got recognition. It is a big achievement for me," added Sushil, who also won a bronze medal, India's first in 54 years, in Beijing.
The Khel Ratna carries a scroll of honour, Rs 7.5 lakh in cash and a newly-designed statuette.
Among the 15 Arjuna Awardees was shuttler Saina Nehwal, who put up an impressive performance in the Olympics and at the moment is the world No. 6 in badminton.
Left-handed batsman Gautam Gambhir was the only cricketer to have made the list after a sterling performance in the World Twenty20 in South Africa.
Like the Khel Ratna winners, Arjuna awardees also got a newly-designed statuette, along with citations and an enhanced cash prize of Rs 5 lakh each.
Saina's mentor and former badminton player Pullela Gopichand, India's assistant boxing coach at the Beijing Olympics Jaidev Bisht and Sushil's coach Satpal Singh were among the four Dronacharya awardees.
They also received a statuette, citation and an enhanced cash prize of Rs 5 lakh.
The Sports Ministry also instituted a new award this year, 'The Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar', which was shared by Tata Steel Limited and the Railways Sports Promotion Board in different categories.
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award: MC Mary Kom (Boxing), Vijender Singh (Boxing) Sushil Kumar (Wrestling).
Arjuna Awards: Mangal Singh Champia (Archery), Sinimole Paulose (Athletics), Saina Nehwal (Badminton), L Sarita Devi (Boxing), Tania Sachdev (Chess), Gautam Gambhir (Cricket), Ignace Tirkey (Hockey), Surinder Kaur (Hockey), Pankaj Navanath Shirsat (Kabaddi), Satish Joshi (Rowing), Ronjan Sodhi (Shooting), Poulomi Ghatak (Table Tennis), Yogeshwar Dutt (Wrestling), Girdhari Lal Yadav (Yachting), Parul D Parmar (Badminton, Disabled).
Dhyan Chand Awards: Ishar Singh Deol (Athletics), Satbir Singh Dahya (Wrestling).
Dronacharya Awards: Pullela Gopichand (Badminton), Jaidev Bisht (Boxing), S Baldev Singh (Hockey), Satpal (Wrestling).
Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar: Community Sports Identification and Nurturing of Budding Young Talent (TATA Steel Ltd), Financial Support for Sports Excellence (None qualified), Establishment and Management of Sports Academies of Excellence (TATA Steel Ltd), Employment of Sportspersons and sports welfare measures (Railways Sports Promotion Board).
(With inputs from PTI)