Diay reaches finish line

Lydia de Vega — one of the greatest Filipino athletes of all time — succumbed to cancer Wednesday. She was 57. Her daughter, Stephanie, broke the news on social media that her mother had lost her long battle with breast cancer at the Makati Medical Center.

De Vega was first diagnosed with cancer in 2018 and had been quietly fighting the disease for the past four years in which she underwent several procedures, including brain surgery.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. spearheaded a fund-raising campaign for her when he instructed Philippine Sports Commission executive director Atty. Guillermo Iroy to help cover her rising medical expenses.

Mr. Marcos on Thursday condoled with the family of De Vega while celebrating her legacy. “Lydia de Vega has run her last race,” Marcos said in an official statement released by Malacañang. “She has fought a good fight. Let us pray for her peace.”

Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Lito Lapid, meanwhile, filed separate resolutions honoring De Vega for her sporting contributions.

“On behalf of our family, it is with absolute grief that I announce the death of my mother, Lydia de Vega this evening, 10 August 2022, at the Makati Medical Center,” said Stephanie, who inherited her mother’s athletic ability after playing for De La Salle University women’s volleyball team.

“Wake details will be announced very soon but for now, I would wholeheartedly appreciate your prayers for the soul of my mother.”

Queen of Speed

Fondly called “Diay” by friends and fans, the tall, bubbly, and comely daughter of Meycauayan, Bulacan served as the face of Philippine sports in the 1980s and 1990s.

She was just 16 years old when she became a product of Project: Gintong Alay program in 1979 under Michael Keon which aimed to develop potential track and field athletes. Her first coach was her father Francisco “Tatang” de Vega, an ex-policeman who also served as her PR man, masseuse, therapist and sports psychologist.

Later on, former Olympians Claro Pellosis and Santos Magno, as well as Australian Anthony Benson, joined her team, making her one of the most powerful forces in Philippine athletics.

She burst into the limelight when she dazzled the home crowd with her extraordinary display of flair, speed and beauty en route to a commanding 23.54 seconds in the women’s 200-meter run and 54.75 seconds in the women’s 400-meter run in the 1981 Southeast Asian Games at the Rizal Memorial track oval.

But her biggest break came the following year.

Ranged against an equally beloved sprinter in PT Usha of India, De Vega-Mercado exploded with a record-breaking 11.76 seconds to emerge victorious in their duel of grit, poise, power and speed in the women’s 100-meter event of the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi.

More than clinching the gold medal, De Vega’s star power shone even brighter as she was tagged as “Asia’s Sprint Queen,” a title previously reserved for legendary Taiwanese trackster Chi Cheng back in the day.

She proved that her feat was no fluke in the next edition of the Asian Games in Seoul in 1986 when she clocked an incredible 11.53 seconds en route to another golden finish.

De Vega would later clock 11.28 seconds in the women’s 100-meter run — a record that remained untouched for 30 years until a Filipino-American runner in Kristina Knott shattered it with an 11.26-second performance in a tournament in the United States.

Knott also broke De Vega-Mercado’s decades-old feat in the women’s 200-meter run.

Legendary career

In all, De Vega captured nine gold and two silver medals in the SEA Games; four gold, three silver and three bronze medals in the Asian Athletics Championships; and two gold and a silver medal in the Asian Games in a legendary track career that spanned for 14 years.

She also saw action in two Olympic Games — 1982 in Los Angeles and 1988 in Seoul — and delivered countless memories, including the joy of winning and the pain of losing.

She served as councilor of Meycauayan and consultant of the PSC after her playing career before quietly moving to Singapore to answer a different calling: Teaching.

She was at the sidelines of the 28th SEA Games in Singapore in 2015 and was seen cheering as sprinters Eric Cray and Kayla Richardson put on a show to rule the century dash, which is long considered as the most prestigious and most important event in track and field.

“The talent is there and we have the potential to do better,” De Vega told Daily Tribune at the grandstands of the Singapore National Stadium.

“Don’t worry, they’ll improve along the way. The future of (Philippine) athletics looks bright.”

Four years later, she made another public appearance, this time, with her fellow legends during the opening ceremonies of the 30th SEA Games in 2019.

One of the athletes whom she was with in the 2019 SEAG was Eric Buhain, who claimed that De Vega-Mercado was in her usual jolly self with her megawatt smile still lighting up the room.

“I was so shocked because when we were together during the SEA Games in 2019 in Philippine Arena, she was already diagnosed with cancer,” said Buhain, who was with De Vega-Mercado in the national team from 1985 to 1993.

“But she tried her best to hide it. She showed tremendous courage to hide the pain and act as if everything was going well.”

Buhain said De Vega-Mercado — his friend — may now be gone, but her memories will last forever.

After all, legends never die. They just fade away.

@tribunephl_jom @tribunephl_eao

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