At 40, the prestigious Khel Ratna award came pretty late for Sharath Kamal, but the star table tennis player on Saturday said the recognition was “better late than never”, and it will inspire him to give one last shot at Olympic glory. Sharath was on Friday recommended as the only athlete for this year’s Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award, the country’s highest sporting honour, for his stupendous performance in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, where he won four medals, including three gold and one silver.

“Really proud moment. At this age getting this award, inspiring so many millions across different sports is really wonderful. It’s come pretty late in my career but better late than never,” Sharath told PTI.

“For the amount of sacrifice and the work I have put in, especially post 2015 the second stage of my career — the Sharath Kamal 2.0 post the hamstring injury, the rise has been consistent and growing exponentially. I am really happy and I would like to thank my coaches, my support staff.” “I am looking forward to the Paris Olympics and this will really encourage me. Of course the CWG and Tokyo has given me the right direction to get into the Paris, and hopefully, a medal there will be the best thing that can happen to any sportperson’s life,” he added.

Sharath was among 42 Khel Ratna aspirants this year, including hockey players Harmanpreet Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Savita Punia and Vandana Katariya.

The Khel Ratna was awarded to an unprecedented five athletes in 2020 and 11 last year.

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“The journey has been really long and tedious and I am really enjoying it now. The fact that only one Khel Ratna is given this year without a doubt in the committee, I really felt proud of that decision,” Sharath said.

Sharath, who won two bronze medals in the 2018 Asian Games, said it was very pleasing to hear Olympic gold medallist javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra recognising his feats.

“When I met Neeraj Chopra at an awards function recently, he was like ‘bhai apne toh kamal kar diya’ (brother you did wonders). When it comes from athletes like him it’s a great feeling,” he said.

Besides the Khel Ratna, the awards committee chaired by retired Supreme Court judge , Justice AM Khanwilkar, also recommended 25 athletes for this year’s Arjuna awards, including Commonwealth Games singles champion Lakshya Sen, world champion female boxer Nikhat Zareen among others. PTI SSC SSC AH AH

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