One could sense a tinge of excitement in the way some of India’s top sportspersons spoke about winning the Arjuna Award and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.For some, the feeling is similar to pulling the national jersey for the first time while some are filled with the pride with the fact that they will be recipients of country’s biggest sporting honour.At the Ashoka Hall in the Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi today will stand 20 Arjuna awardees and two Khel Ratnas and the excitement seemed visible on the athletes as they spoke after their rehearsals on Monday.”I had a tickling sensation when I got on the stage and was told how I need to take a stance, where to look and how to exit the stage. It was a unique kind of training, one where I sweat without the hard work,” Mirabai Chanu, who will be awarded the Khel Ratna, told Mail Today.The world champion is currently surging her back injury in Mumbai and will only be back in action next year. But the Khel Ratna, Chanu says, brings a huge sense of accomplishment in a topsy-turvy year.”After the Rio debacle, I worked hard and won the World Championship followed by the Commonwealth Games gold medal. Not participating in the Asian Games was tough mentally but I kept working hard. I honestly didn’t expect I would win this, I thought I’d get an Arjuna Award. But I can’t say how happy I am. I feel more proud about the fact that I will stand next to Virat Kohli, who will also get Khel Ratna. I am a huge fan of him and his wife (Anushka Sharma). My mother is the happiest of all and this award motivates me to do well next year,” she added.advertisementFor young javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, the award comes as an icing on the cake. A Commonwealth Games gold medal, Asian Games gold medal and now an Arjuna Award tops off a wonderful year for the 20-year-old.The Haryana lad, however, sounded as grounded as one can be as he spoke about the awards.”It’s always a moment of pride when your hard work is recognised. I think I had a great year and I just want to keep this run going. It’s a huge honour standing next to the President of India and receiving that award and my family cannot be more proud of me. I still have a long way to go, I need to improve and nothing will make me more proud to win gold for the country,” Chopra told Mail Today.While for most athletes, standing on the stage during the rehearsals reminded them of their sporting achievements and tough grind put in the training, hockey goalkeeper Savita Punia recalled the day she cried over the phone wanting to quit the sport.”When I was standing there on the stage, listening to instructions about what I need to do tomorrow, I could only think of the time I called my dad and asked him to take me home as I didn’t like sports. I wanted him to come and get me from the hostel but now that I look back, that was his best decision not to come,” laughed Savita.Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli was the biggest miss at the ceremony rehearsals on Monday as the rest of the athletes went through the chorus of Tuesday’s big stage.