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Mahendra Singh Dhoni [Images] became only the second cricketer, a decade after Sachin Tendulkar [Images], to be conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the country's highest sporting honour, at a glittering function at Rashtrapati Bhawan, Delhi [Images], on Friday.
India's ODI captain could not attend the function as he is leading the team in the fifth and final One-Day International against Sri Lanka [Images] in Colombo. His father Paan Singh received the award on his behalf.
President Pratibha Patil [Images] presented Rs 500,000, a scroll of honour and a medallion in recognition of his outstanding performance in cricket.
Apart from the 27-year-old Dhoni, it was also a red letter day for 11 other sportspersons, who were conferred the Arjuna award at a packed Ashok Hall, which reverberated with thunderous applause.
Olympian shooter Avneet Kaur Sidhu, hockey forward Prabhjot Singh, and Beijing [Images] Olympics [Images] quarter-finalist rower Bajranglal Takhar were among those honoured with the Arjuna.
Women's World junior chess champion D Harika, ace golfer Arjun Atwal and power lifter Ferman Basha could not make it to the function.
Harika's sister Anusha, Atwal's father Harminder and Basha's wife Andorita received the awards on their behalf.
Once again no male cricketer figured in the list of Arjuna awardees' since Harbhajan Singh [Images] won it in 2003.
The Arjuna award, the country's oldest sports honour, was instituted in 1961. It comprises a cheque of Rs 300,000, a statuette of legendary archer Arjuna and a scroll of honour.
Dhoni, in his first stint as captain, led the Indian cricket team to Twenty20 World Cup triumph in its inaugural edition in South Africa [Images]. He proved his leadership skills by also leading India to an unprecedented one-day tri-series triumph in Australia.
Judoka Tombi Devi said it was a great feeling to win the honour despite lack of a good support system.
"It feels great to be here. If we judokas get better facilities and coaches we can scale greater heights," she said after receiving the award.
Shooter Avneet Kaur said she was motivated by the honour and would target the 2012 London [Images] Olympics for further glory.
"My ultimate goal is 2012 Olympics. Now all my energy would be concentrated on achieving success there," she said.
"My training scores are good but for the final competitions I am planning to take the help of a mental trainer," she added.
Coaches Sanjeeva Kumar Singh (archery), Jagdish Singh (boxing), G E Sridharan (volleyball), Jagminder Singh (wrestling) received the Dronacharya award.
Coach Jagdish said he put in a lot of effort in shaping the Bhiwani boxers and feels proud of their achievement at the just-concluded Olympic Games.
"We have a talented lot in boxing and it is a great pride to be here today," he said.
Punjabi University, Patiala, won the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (MAKA) Trophy. Guru Nanak University of Amritsar [Images] had claimed the honour a record 21 times till last year.
The MAKA trophy carries a cash prize of Rs 200,000 and a rolling trophy. It was received by vice chancellor Jaspal Rana along with Swarum Kaur and Abhishek Rana.
Khel Ratna: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Cricket)
Arjuna: Chitra K Soman (Aletics), Anup Sridhar (Badminton), Johnson Varghese (Boxing), Harika Dronavalli (Chess), Arjun Atwal (Golf), Prabhjot Singh (Hockey), Tombi Devi (Judo), Bajranglal Takhar (Rowing), Avneet Kaur Sidhu (Shooting), Alka Tomar (Wrestling), Farman Basha (Power Lifting, Disabled category).
Dhyan Chand award: Hakam Singh (Athletics), Mukhbain Singh (Hockey), Gian Singh (Wrestling).
Dronacharya award: Sanjeeva Kumar Singh (Archery), Jagdish Singh (Boxing), G E Sridharan (Volleyball), Jagminder Singh (Wrestling).
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