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Indian teen who is the toast of world hockey

By LAXMI NEGI
February 17, 2020 09:24 IST
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'I play in the present without thinking about the buzz in the background,' says Vivek Sagar Prasad, who has just won the FIH Rising Star of the Year award.

Vivek Sagar Prasad

IMAGE: Vivek Sagar Prasad is looking to carry the good showing to the Olympics and help India win a medal in Tokyo.
 

Vivek Sagar Prasad is basking in the limelight after winning the FIH Rising Star of the Year award.

The 19-year-old midfielder from Itarsi in Madhya Pradesh won the accolade ahead of Argentina's Maico Casella and Blake Govers of Australia who finished second and third respectively.

From being the youngest to represent the country to battling depression after a career-threatening injury to becoming an integral part of India's squad, the soft-spoken teen has come a long way.

"Just like any other athlete, I want to do well at the Tokyo Olympics and, with my team-mates, win an Olympic medal," Vivek tells Laxmi Negi/Rediff.com.

Tell us about your journey in the game.

As a kid I used to play chess and badminton, but once I was introduced to hockey I was hooked on to it.

My father is a teacher and he wanted me to forge a career in the same field as his, but in 2011 I decided I wanted to continue playing hockey. I am fortunate that today I am representing my country in this sport.

  • Vivek was just 17 years, 10 months and 22 days when he became the second youngest player ever to represent India. It was in a four-nation invitational tournament in January 2018.
  • He has taken part in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 2018 Asian Games, Champions Trophy 2018.
  • He was a member of the Indian team that won a silver medal in the 2019 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
  • He was also a member of the Indian team's most important events in 2019 -- the FIH Series Finals and subsequent FIH Olympic Qualifiers.
  • Vivek was an integral part of the national squad for the Olympic qualifiers against Russia in Bhubaneswar in 2019.

What about the expectations?

Right from the beginning I have been very focussed. I just try to play in the present without thinking about the buzz in the background. I have never ever thought what others would think about me or my game.

I have just believed in myself and my game.

Would you like to talk about the career-threatening accident in 2016? Do you think about it now or has it been forgotten?

I was playing a practice match in Bhopal and got a collar bone injury. I was in bed for four months; the doctor informed my coach and father that I had six months for recovery. There were chances of infection which I had to avoid in order to play again.

There was a 50-50 chance of me playing hockey again.

My father and coach did not tell me about it, but I could sense something was not okay and told my brother about my insecurity.

I did not know if I would be able to step on to a hockey field ever again. I tried not to go into depression because of my negative state of mind.

I used to pray for just one more chance of playing hockey again. I kept my focus and concentrated on my recovery.

By June 2016, I was fit again. In 2017 I was called for the junior national camp and at the end of it I was chosen as captain. There has been no looking back from that day.

Vivek Sagar Prasad

Now there will be added expectations. Your name will feature after Sardar Singh and Manpreet Singh. Have you thought about it?

I will go back to what I was taught: Focus on my game. This (FIH Rising Star of the Year) award has acted as a motivation and I am grateful.

Your journey from junior to senior is like Manpreet's. What did you learn in the process?

Hockey practice is basically the same, but there is a lot of difference in strength and structure.

At the senior level the game is fast. With the power they hit the ball, collection becomes tough.

I didn't understand it earlier, but I sat with some seniors and kept pestering them with my questions and the areas I need to improve upon.

Within one month, my collection of the ball improved.

It is the matter of structure and strength. Once you get it, your dedication can help you achieve anything.

I was taught that hard work and concentration can get you anywhere and I always remember it.

Vivek Sagar Prasad

Can you point to any of your performances that helped you win this award?

I don't think that any one performance can help you win this award or any award. If you perform well in just one match, it doesn't help. One needs to to be consistent in order to win any award.

I can proudly say I have been performing consistently well to win this award.

Vivek Sagar Prasad

What is your dream in this Olympic year?

Every athlete tries to aim for Olympics glory. So just like any other athlete, I want to do well at the Tokyo Olympics and, with my team-mates, try to win an Olympic medal.

Who do you look up to in the team?

Manpreetbhai. I like his attitude on the ground. His energy is magnetic. His responsibility towards the team is praiseworthy.

Looking at how he handles himself and plays his hockey, I aspire to become like him someday.

Who gave you the news about the FIH honour?

Manpreetbhai informed me when I was nominated, but when the results were out all the team-mates surprised me.

My father called me and expressed his happiness. He told me to keep my focus as this is not the end, my journey has just begun.

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