Asian Games gold medallist Jitu Rai has been recommended for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award for his exploits in pistol shooting in the last two years although he couldn’t win a medal at the Rio Olympics.
“Yes, we have recommended Jitu’s name for Khel Ratna award,” National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) secretary Rajiv Bhatia said.
NRAI has also recommended woman rifle shooter Apurvi Chanela and men rifle shooters Gurpreet Singh and PN Prakash for the Arjuna Awards, according to Bhatia.
The 29-year-old Rai, ranked third in the world in the men’s 10m air pistol, was one of two Indian shooters to make the final of their respective events in Rio, the other being Abhinav Bindra.
Rai entered the final of the men’s 10m air pistol before ending up eighth but could not advance to the same stage in the 50m pistol, his pet event, in the Rio Games.
The Khel Ratna award is the country’s highest sporting honour.
This year, Rai has won the silver medal in the 10m air pistol event at the ISSF World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan and the gold medal at the ISSF World Cup in Bangkok in 50m pistol.
Rai was the first shooter to qualify for the Rio Games after winning a silver medal at the 51st Shooting World Championships in Spain in 2014.
If the recommendation is approved, the shooter will receive the award from President Pranab Mukherjee on August 29, celebrated as India’s National Sports Day to mark the birth anniversary of hockey legend Dhyan Chand.
Seven shooters, including India’s lone individual Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, have so far bagged the Khel Ratna with the last recipient, Ronjan Sodhi, receiving it in 2012-13.
Woman tennis star Sania Mirza won the award last year.