"They have reached the pinnacle of their chosen field"

Leander and Mahesh, the first pair to lay their hands on the award, were presented with Rs. 1 lakh each and citations by chief guest Ramesh Krishnan, also India's Davis Cup non-playing captain, who gave away all the prizes.

The winners of the 'The Sportstar Sportspersons of the Year' award for 1999 Leander Paes (left) and Mahesh Bhupathi flank the chief guest, Mr. Ramesh Krishnan, who gave away the awards In Chennai on Saturday. Also seen Is Mr. N. Ram, Editor, The Sportstar.

The atmosphere was one of celebration as Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, India's world beating tennis pair, received 'The Sportstar Sportspersons of the Year' award for 1999 at a colourful function at Chennai's Taj Coromandel Hotel on December 30, 2000.

The prestigious award, instituted in 1994 - cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar was the first winner - has now gone twice to Paes. He had earlier clinched it for his bronze medal winning effort in Atlanta 1996.

And Leander and Mahesh, the first pair to lay their hands on the award, were presented with Rs. 1 lakh each and citations by chief guest Ramesh Krishnan, also India's Davis Cup non-playing captain, who gave away all the prizes.

The other prominent winner was Leslie Claudius, a dominant hockey midfielder in his time, and an integral part of the Indian team that bagged four successive Olympic medals, three of them golds, from 1948 to 1960.

He was honoured with the 'Legend of Indian Sport' award, which carried a cheque of Rs. 1 lakh and a citation, amid thunderous applause. N. Ram, Editor, The Sportstar, and S. Krishnan, Associate Editor, Sports, The Hindu, were present on the dais.

The Sportstar Young Achievers for 1999 were Sunil Kumar, who won the National tennis title at just 16, and Aarthie Ramaswamy, the World under-18 girls' chess champion. Their awards comprised cheques for Rs. 50,000 each and citations. Since Aarthie was in England, her mother received the award.

Speaking on the occasion, Ramesh Krishnan hailed Leander and Mahesh's extraordinary run in 1999, which saw them make the final of all the four Grand Slam events, a feat that was last achieved by Frank Sedgman and Ken McGregor, way back in 1952.

"Leander and Mahesh, each have been ranked No 1. in the doubles ranking, and as a team, they finished 1999 as the No. 1 team in the world. They have reached the pinnacle of their chosen field, and have certainly left their mark on the international tennis scene. And if you look at it in the context of Indian sports, their accomplishments will rank alongside all our outstanding achievements," said Ramesh.

On Sunil Kumar, Ramesh noted that the Punjab lad's rise was indeed creditable since he came from a rustic non-tennis background.

N. Ram, congratulated Leander and Mahesh, hailed Claudius' contribution to Indian hockey, and added that Aarthie Ramaswamy and Sunil Kumar possessed both "ability and character." He also had words of praise for next year's winners, women's weightlifting bronze medallist in the Sydney Olympics, Karnam Malleswari (the 'Sportsperson of the Year'), the great footballer of yore Sailen Manna (the 'Legend of Indian Sport'), and 'Young Achievers', Deep Sengupta, under-12 world chess champion, and Seema Antil, discus gold medal winner at the junior World Athletics Championships.

Replying to the felicitations, Leander, in the presence of his father Dr. Vece Paes, an Olympic hockey bronze medallist himself, acknowledged the contributions of his family,Mahesh and friends, to his success.

Mahesh said he and Leander would have achieved a lot less. without their Australian coach Bob Carmichael, who too made it to the function.

Claudius said he was honoured to receive the award and added he had happy memories of Chennai.

As always, the function, compered by Nirmal Shekar, Tennis Correspondent, The Hindu, was a well attended one. Finally, to the major announcement made by Ram during the function, when he revealed that World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand was the winner of 'The Sportstar Millennium Award for 'Extraordinary Achievement in Sport.' The award carried a cheque for Rs. 2 lakhs and a citation.

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