Three of India’s top medal prospects for Tokyo 2020 are set to receive the prestigious Khel Ratna, joining an illustrious list of sporting greats.
Wrestler Vinesh Phogat, table tennis star Manika Batra, hockey team captain Rani Rampal and Paralympic track and field gold medalist Mariyappan Thangavelu have all been nominated for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award - India’s highest sporting honour.
Vinesh Phogat, who has her sights on a medal at next year’s Games, was the first wrestler to have qualified for Tokyo 2020 and was in terrific form over the past 18 months, scooping gold medals at both the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2019 World Championships.
The grappler from Haryana suffered heartbreak at Rio 2016 when she bowed out in the quarter finals due to a knee injury sustained in her loss to Sun Yanan of China.
Manika Batra has been recommended for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna owing to her stunning performance at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where she bagged gold in the women’s singles and team events. She also clinched two other medals in the mixed doubles (bronze) and women’s doubles (silver).
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Batra was busy training for the Olympic qualifiers scheduled to take place in April, but were postponed because of COVID-19. The paddler will be hoping to continue her good form and qualify for the Olympic Games next year.
Meanwhile hockey skipper Rani Rampal has become the first female hockey player to have been nominated for the prestigious award, and only the third hockey player in history to achieve the honour after Sardar Singh and Dhanraj Pillay.
Rani led the Indian team to qualification for Tokyo 2020 and scored the deciding goal at the FIH Olympic qualifiers in 2019.
The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award nominations for 2020 came from a 12-member committee, comprising of former Indian hockey and cricket captains Sardar Singh and Virender Sehwag.
Former recipients of the award include Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, tennis star Sania Mirza, shuttler PV Sindhu, wrestler Sushil Kumar, as well as Vishwanathan Anand (chess) and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.