Jitu Rai didn’t disappoint the housekeeping staff of Hotel Ashoka, who was taking turns to click photographs with him. Of the four Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna winners, PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar were at a function in Hyderabad and only Jitu was present in the designated hotel in Delhi ahead of Monday’s ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The most sought after star amongst the staff and media, the pistol ace was lapping up the attention, but was also mindful that his performances at the Rio Olympics were not up to scratch compared to his fellow Khel Ratna winners.
“I think I was lucky to get this award. I would have won Khel Ratna automatically had I returned with a medal from Rio. But I didn’t do that well there. So, I feel I am very lucky after the committee announced my name, and am very thankful to them,” Jitu told HT on Sunday.
He added: “I am very happy, it’s the biggest honour in my career and this will certainly motivate me to win more.”
Jitu was nominated for the highest sports award by the 12-member committee headed by Justice (retd) SK Aggarwal as his application carried the maximum weightage in terms of marks allocated after factoring in medal wins and world rankings. Those were accumulated by gold medals at the 2014 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.
Sakshi’s bronze medal in wrestling was topped by Sindhu’s badminton silver in Rio. And with Dipa becoming the first Indian gymnast to make the cut for the final in vault before finishing fourth, girl power became the rallying cry as many of India’s accomplished stars failed to make an impression.
“I am all for girl power and salute these girls who brought home the medals and made everyone here proud. Thanks to them, we did not return empty-handed. But does this mean men are worse? I don’t know. It’s all down to winning, but had a few of the men returned with medals, the debate would have been different,” he said.
Drag-flicker VR Raghunath was happy the committee recognised the good work being done by the hockey team. Both he and the scoring ace of the women’s team, Rani Rampal, are part of the Arjuna awards list.
“This award is a return for the over ten years I have given on the field. It is very hard to win individual awards being part of a team sport, but I am thankful they recognised our hard work. Rani has been given the award too, so I think the committee had recognised our hard work,” he said.