NEW DELHI: The last time the sports ministry made an exception with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award was back in 2009, when for the first time three athletes – Sushil Kumar, Vijender Singh and MC Mary Kom – were conferred the award. On Monday, for the first time in the history of Indian sport, the country’s highest sporting honour was presented to four athletes: Rio Olympic medallists PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik, gymnast Dipa Karmakar and shooter Jitu Rai.

President Pranab Mukherjee gave away the awards in the presence of an august gathering at the Darbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Khel Ratna awardees received a medal, certificate and cash prize of Rs 7.5 lakh each. Shuttler Sindhu, who was the first to receive the honour following her silver-medal winning show in Rio, gave credit to her parents and coach P Gopichand. “I am thankful to my coach and parents because of whom I could pursue my dream. It’s been a great day for me, to receive the award. I am very happy,” Sindhu said.

“Yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modiji congratulated me saying I made the country proud and that made my day. In Rio, I didn’t have much clue on how people will react. I am overwhelmed by love and affection showered on me once I reached home,” she added.

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