Indian women's team captain Rani Rampal on Thursday became the first-ever hockey player to win the prestigious 'World Games Athlete of the Year' award.
The World Games announced the winner on Thursday after 20 days of polling by sports fans world-wide.
"Indian hockey superstar Rani is The World Games Athlete of the Year 2019! Huge congratulations!," the World Games said in a statement.
"With an impressive number of votes, 199,477, Rani is the clear winner of the Athlete of the Year race, where sports fans all over the world have voted for their favourite during 20 days of polling in January. All in all, over 705,610 votes were cast during the poll," it added.
Last year, India won the FIH Series Finals, and Rani was named Player of the Tournament. Under Rani's leadership, the Indian women's team qualified for just the third Olympic Games in its history.
"I dedicate this award to the entire hockey fraternity, my team and my country. This success has only become possible with the love and support from hockey lovers, fans, my team, coaches, Hockey India, my government, friends from Bollywood, fellow sportspersons and my countrymen who have continuously voted for me," said Rani, who was recently named among the Padma Shri awardees.
"Special thanks to FIH for nominating me for this prestigious award. Thank you to The World Games Federation for this recognition," she added.
Rani further said after a successful 2019, she is now looking forward to achieving greater heights with the national team in 2020, which also happens to be an Olympic year.
"It is my privilege and honour to win this award. It is always nice when your country recognises your effort. It is even better when the international sports community recognises it. Thank you so much to everyone who voted for me," she said.
"2019 was a great year for our team because we qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. As a team we want to make 2020 a great year!"
Rani, who has been a member of the national team since she was a 15-years-old, currently has more than 240 caps for India.
"Rani is an inspirational athlete, and a role model for many in India. It was amazing to see the support the Indians, even as high up as Mr Rijiju, the Minister of State, Youth Affairs and Sports, gave to her in this vote together with the Hockey fans all around the world. This is what sport is about: uniting people from different backgrounds and different countries," said International World Games Association President Jose Perurena.
The International Hockey Federation also congratulated Rani on being named for the award.
"Congratulations @imranirampal for becoming the first ever Hockey athlete to win the prestigious @TheWorldGames Athlete of the Year award!" the FIH, who nominated Rani for the award, said in its twitter handle.
"On behalf of FIH and the global hockey community, I would like to extend our warmest congratulations to Rani for having been voted The World Games Athlete of the Year 2019. This is an acknowledgement of her outstanding performances - together with her team-mates - and her dedication to hockey and her leadership," FIH CEO Thierry Weil said.
"This prestigious Award is also a great recognition for hockey globally. Furthermore, we are working hard for and looking forward to having Hockey 5s as a demonstration sport at The World Games 2021."
Congratulating Rani, Hockey India President Mohd Mushtaque Ahmad said, "This is a very proud moment for all of us. She is the first Indian athlete to win this award and through her achievements Rani has been able to draw a lot of attention towards women's hockey. Many people are aware of the team's recent accomplishments and I am confident this team is capable of winning larger goals and I wish Rani and the team best of luck this Olympic Year."
There were initially 25 nominees, male and female nominated by their respective sports federations, which was later reduced to 10 in the final round of public voting.
The FIH has recommended Rani's name for her outstanding performances and her ability to lead by example.Karate star Stanislav Horuna of Ukraine was second behind Rani with over 92,000 votes and Canadian powerlifting world champion Rhaea Stinn was third.