Vivek Sagar Prasad is an Olympic medallist at 21. He is also the first medal winner for any athlete born in Madhya Pradesh in almost 50 years. He will return to his home in a few days to Chandon, a tiny village near Hoshangabad, a small laidback town in Madhya Pradesh's Itarsi district, which is producing one athlete after another for the country.
In 2018, sailor Harshita Tomar from the same town went to Asian Games and clinched a bronze. At the same tournament, Aadhya Tiwari had taken part in the softball tennis competition. And now a hockey player from Hoshangabad, which falls under district Itarsi in MP, has produced not only an Olympian but an Olympic bronze medallist.
The Indian midfielder, who scored a decisive goal in the Pool game against Argentina, which helped India secure the quarter-final berth, is a discovery of one of the hockey greats Ashok Kumar, son of the legendary Dhyan Chand.
In 2015, during a local hockey tournament in Akola in Maharashtra, Ashok saw Vivek playing for the first time and he knew the kid was special. What caught his eye was absolute control and the run with the ball. He liked him so much that after the match was over, he walked up to him and offered him to join the MP hockey academy in Bhopal.
Speaking to Firstpost over the phone, the pathfinder was elated and was happy his name is now being taken alongside Vivek.
File image of Vivek. Image courtesy: MP Sports Academy
"I feel happy and glad that I am a part of his journey. People will remember me when they will talk about him," said a happy coach.
After getting the offer from Ashok, Vivek reached out to him twenty days later and said he wanted to come to Bhopal to train at the state academy. But where would he live? The selection trials for the academy were still four months away.
Ashok said, "Aaa jao, mere ghar rehna chaar mahine. (Come and live with me for four months)."
Vivek agreed and went to Bhopal, Ashok took care of him and made him play with the boys at the academy.
"He was there in my home as my son. He played with other kids in the academy," said Ashok.
Vivek began to rise through the ranks and was on the verge of selection for the Junior World Cup in 2016 but an accident while training in Bhopal broke his collarbone, to an extent that for months, Vivek could not even pick up a hockey stick.
It was Ashok who rushed him to the hospital and took care of him with his parents back home in Hoshangabad.
"I saw him train and running to the other end of the turf with the ball and then soon he collapsed. I ran to see what happened and then saw that a part of the collarbone had come out of his body," Ashok recalled.
Ashok drove him to the hospital and Vivek underwent surgery the next day. The surgery was 100 percent successful, says Ashok, but 15 days later the doctor called to inform about an internal injury that was an after-effect of the bone damage, which had become life-threatening for Vivek. The pus produced due to injury was going into Vivek's lungs. The doctor told Ashok, if the quantity of pus increased, it could be fatal.
The news shocked Ashok but there was nothing he could do. The doctor told him that medicines usually work in such conditions, but nothing was sure.
Luckily, they worked for Vivek and after two months, he was back on his feet and resumed his hockey journey.
"This kid has seen a lot, even in this short career, he has seen a lot. He fought back from a near-death situation to resume playing the sport he loves," said Ashok.
Vivek never looked back. In 2017, he was back with the junior side and led India at Youth Olympics in 2018 where they ended up as runners-up. He was only 17 when he debuted for India at the four-nation invitational tournament in New Zealand, becoming the youngest-ever to represent India in the sport. He went on to represent India at the Commonwealth Games 2018 as well.
Five months ago, before leaving for Olympics camp, Vivek again dialed up Ashok and said, "Sir, I wanted to come and meet you." Ashok was at his home in Jhansi and Vivek took a stopover at Jhansi, went to his him and took his blessings.
The only thing Ashok told him that night before Vivek boarded the train to Delhi was, "I want to see you playing in Olympics."
Vivek has done more than that.