Wrestling Federation of India have made their nomination for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, Arjuna Award and Dronacharya Award. Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat have been recommended for the Khel Ratna; Rahul Aware, Harpreet Singh, Divya Kakran and Pooja Dhanda have been recommended for the Arjuna Award and Virender Kumar, Sujeet Maan, Narendra Kumar and Vikram Kumar are the names recommended by the national wrestling body for the Dronacharya Award.
Bajrang, World No. 1, further stamped his authority on the mat with a gold medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships in Xi’An, China. He won a gold medal last year at the Asian Games as well. He won a silver medal at the 2018 World Championships, gold at the Commonwealth Games last year; gold at 2017 Asian Championships, bronze at 2018 Asian Championships and another gold last week. At the Commonwealth Championship, he won a gold medal in 2016 and 2017.
Punia carries plenty of hopes in the 65kg category at the Tokyo Olympics next year. He had won the Arjuna Award in 2015.
Another strong medal candidate is Phogat who has had an equally stellar last four years. She won gold medals at both 2014, 2018 Commonwealth Games; bronze at 2014 Asian Games and a gold at 2018 Asian Games; three silver medals and two bronze medals over the years at Asian Championships – including a bronze medal this time around.
With her gold medal last year at Jakarta Asian Games, she became the first Indian woman wrestler to win the yellow metal at the continental tournament.
WFI recommended Aware, Asian Wrestling Championships silver-medallist Harpreet, bronze medallist Divya and Dhanda for Arjuna award.
Dhanda had won a bronze medal at the World Championships last year and she bagged a silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Aware was the 57kg category gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games last year.
Punia had threatened to move court last year when he was not conferred with the Khel Ratna. His mentor and former Yogeshwar Dutt played a role in calming him down and advising him otherwise. Virat Kohli and Mirabai Chanu took the honours.
Khel Ratna, the highest sporting honour in the country, is awarded by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Following the recommendations by individual sporting bodies, the list is further culled by a committee constituted by the Ministry. The athletes are honoured for their “spectacular and most outstanding performance in the field of sports over a period of four years” at international level.
With not more than two nominations from each sport, WFI have sent in their choices of Phogat and Punia who have won numerous medals in the last four years. Previous recipients of the Khel Ratna in wrestling are Sushil Kumar (2009), Yogeshwar Dutt (2012) and Sakshi Malik (2016).