Cricket captain Virat Kohli, hockey captain P.R. Sreejesh, 2016 Olympic bronze medallist wrestler Sakshi Malik, and para-athletes Deepa Malik and Mariyappan Thangavelu were on Wednesday named for the prestigious Padma Shri, the country's fourth highest civilian award.
Apart from them, gymnastic sensation Dipa Karmakar, discus thrower Vikas Gowda and blind cricketer Shekhar Naik also figure in the list of 75 Padma Shri awardees.
These awards are conferred by the President of India at ceremonial functions which are held at Rashtrapati Bhawan usually around March/ April every year.
Meanwhile, doubles badminton specialist Jwala Gutta questioned the criteria for selecting recipients of the Padma Awards, the country's highest civilian awards, after being left out among the various other sports persons in the 75 Padma Shri awardees list.
"I always wondered the concept of applying for particular award which is the most reputed awards in our country.. but then that's what the procedure is.. so I did apply...applied cos it's prestigious to have the award..cos I thought maybe I made the people of my country proud by my game and deserved it," wrote a hurt Gutta on her Facebook page.
However, it was a memorable day for Kohli, who had a successful 2016, leading the Test team to the No.1 ranking, with series wins over the West Indies, New Zealand and England. He was also the Player of the Tournament at the Twenty Championship where India reached the semi-finals. Individually, the 28-year-old always remained top three in the rankings for batsmen across all the three formats.
Meanwhile blind cricket team captain Shekhar led India to victory in the first T20 World Cup in 2012 and the ODI World Cup in 2014. In his career spanning 12 years, he has a staggering 32 centuries to his name.
"Blindness is what gave me opportunities. I am thankful to Samarthanam Trust, Bengaluru and Indian blind cricket body CABI for giving this platform. It was not easy as I was born blind and had to overcome all odds," he said.
"But now I feel it is a God's gift as I could represent my country because of cricket. The credit goes to all my colleagues who played alongside me and the support that I received from CABI."
His hockey counterpart Sreejesh, apart from captaining India to quarter-finals at the Olympics, the goalkeeper was a crucial member of the national team in 2016 which saw it winning the Asian Champions Trophy, runners-up at the FIH Champions Trophy and Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. He was also pivotal in India winning the 2014 Asian Games gold medal and the silver medal at that year' Commonwealth Games.
Reacting to the award, the Keralite expressed that he would like to dedicate the award to his team. "I would like to dedicate this award to my team which has been exceptionally good over the past few years," Sreejesh said in a Hockey India (HI) release.
"We have grown together from strength to strength and have enjoyed success as well as lifted each other from heart breaking defeats. My recognition could not have been possible if not for the team work."
Among others who rose to prominence in 2016 was Sakshi, who became the first Indian woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal, a bronze at the Rio Games. She and shuttler P.V. Sindhu were the only Indians who brought home medals from Rio Games which witnessed a disastrous campaign for India.
Sakshi wrote on Facebook: "I am honoured to be receiving the Padma Shri. As an athlete, there is no greater joy than being bestowed with a civilian honour in the country. This award acknowledges 12 long years of hard work that I have put in to win the Olympic medal."
While Sakshi and Sindhu got the medals at Rio, another woman, Dipa also became the darling of the nation. She became the first Indian female gymnast ever to compete in the Olympics as she missed a bronze medal by a whisker at the Rio Games. The Tripura 23-year-old also has a bronze medal from the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Paralympians lifted India's spirits as four of them brought laurels for the country. Two of them, Thangavelu and Deepa will also receive the Padma Shri.
High jumper Thangavelu, who won the gold in the T42 High Jump category at the Rio Games. He became the third Indian athlete after Muralikant Petkar and Devendra Jhajharia to win the coveted gold medal.
Deepa too had her share of glory as she scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman in fetching a medal at the Paralympic Games. A silver medal at the women's Shot Put F53 category was icing on the cake for India.
"Thank you #India for bestowing such a huge honor #PadmaAwards My country gave me the empowerment to deserve it. @narendramodi @IndiaSports," Deepa wrote on Twitter.
Mysore-born discus thrower Vikas Gowda also received recognition. He holds the national record in discus throw, set in 2012, at 66.28 metres. The 2014 Incheon Asian Games silver medallist also had the pride of being only the second Indian man to win an athletics gold at the Commonwealth Games when his throw of 63.64m at the 2014 Glasgow Games got him a cherished yellow metal.
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