Keon misses prized recruit

Michael Keon still vividly remembers the first time he saw Lydia de Vega.

“It was in late 1979 when she was 15,” Keon told Daily Tribune yesterday as the sporting world mourned the passing of the two-time Asian Games champion at age 57 due to cancer.

Keon then brought De Vega and about 20 other promising athletes to Baguio for training camp as head of Project: Gintong Alay.

“She ran the 400 in a meet in Marikina in early 1980 and that’s when we knew she was going to be a world-class athlete,” Keon, now in his second term as Laoag City mayor, said.

Keon said that De Vega, at 16, showed qualities of somebody who was sure to blossom into an elite athlete.

And that’s exactly what happened as De Vega took gold medals in the 1982 (New Delhi) and 1986 (Seoul) Asian Games.

While it was in Korea that De Vega cemented her status as an icon, it was the exploits in India that will leave an indelible mark on Keon’s memory.

“I was seated in the VIP area beside (Indian) Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,” Keon recalled of that epic performance by De Vega, who clocked 11.76 seconds, beating rising star and local entry PT Usha, who did 11.95.

They would meet again in the following Asian Games in Seoul where De Vega asserted her mastery by posting a time of 11.53 seconds.

De Vega’s time in the century dash later improved to 11.28 when she took the gold in the 1987 Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta.

That record stood until Filipino-American Kristina Knott broke it in 2020 by doing 11.27.

Usha, who now helps the Indian government in talent-search, paid her respects in a social media post.

“Deeply saddened on losing my athletics counterpart, a fierce competitor and good friend Lydia de Vega yesterday. She lost her life to breast cancer but will always be remembered as a champion of life.”

Joey Romasanta, who took over Gintong Alay following the EDSA Revolution in 1986, also had kind words for De Vega.

“A true gem of a talent,” Romasanta said.

It was Romasanta who stepped in following Keon owing to the change of leadership.

But they got to team up again when Keon served as national training director during the runup to the country’ hosting of the 2005 SEA Games.

“That was the last time I saw her, the last time I talked to her,” Keon said.


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