New Delhi: Asian and Commonwealth Games gold-medalist wrestler Bajrang Punia was on Friday nominated for the country’s highest sporting honour — the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, a year after he threatened to move court for not getting his due.
Bajrang’s name was finalised by a 12-member selection committee on the opening day of a two-day meeting. The panel comprises the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia and MC Mary Kom among others and is headed by Justice (Retired) Mukundakam Sharma.
“Bajrang has been nominated for the Khel Ratna award. His name was a unanimous choice,” said a source close to the development.
The source also said that the panel may add another athlete for the top honours on Saturday besides finalising the names for the Arjuna and Dronacharya awards.
Bajrang had threatened to move court after he was snubbed for the Khel Ratna award last year despite being a gold-medalist in both the Asian and Commonwealth Games.
On getting the nod on Friday, Bajrang asserted that he is a deserving candidate of the award.
“My job is to train hard and compete hard. My focus has always been on my performance and not awards. But the recognition does come your way when you do well,” said Bajrang who is in Georgia, training for the World Championships.
“I had the achievements to deserve this award. I have always said that awards should go to the most deserving ones,” he added.
Bajrang had last year won the gold medal in the 65-kg freestyle event at the Asian Games held in Jakarta.
He had also won the gold medal in the same category at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Besides, he is a two-time medalist at the world championships and a strong medal hope for India at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
While Bajrang won a bronze in 60kg in 2013 World Championships, he bettered his feat last year by bagging a silver in the 65kg category.
He welcomed the recognition, but Bajrang said he doesn’t consider it a motivation ahead of the the World Championships to be held from 14 to 22 September at Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
“My focus has always been on preparing for the big stage but yes, recognition makes you happy. It is certainly a good news weeks before the World Championship,” he said.
“I don’t need motivation from outside, I am motivated to do well at the World Championships in Kazakhstan. It (award) does not make any difference to my preparations. Putting on quality performance is my focus and it will remain.”
Bajrang is only the fourth wrestler to be finalised for the Khel Ratna award after Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt and Sakshi Malik.
The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award is the highest sporting honour of the country and comprises a medallion, a certificate, and a cash prize of Rs 7.5 lakh.
It is a part of National Sports Awards bestowed on the occasion of National Sports Day by the President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The National Sports Day is celebrated on 29 August every year to commemorate the birth anniversary of hockey wizard Major Dhyan Chand.