Like Nora and Vilma: Elma Muros remembers Lydia de Vega

Journalists pitted the two queens of Philippine sports against each other. So fierce was their spirit of competition that it bordered on such trivial matters as who’s prettier or who’s richer

Elma Muros Posadas recalls the incident like it happened only yesterday.

She was then a 12-year-old track and field aspirant from Romblon rooming in with a fellow athlete named Lydia de Vega from Bulacan at an edition of Palarong Pambansa.

In the dorm, she was having a lively chat with Lydia when Elma felt something wasn’t right. As she stood up and turned around, her dress had blood stains.

Lydia blurted: “Elma, may regla ka na (you’re having your menstrual period)!”

Elma recounted Lydia telling her to rub her stained underwear on her face so she won’t have pimples. Lydia helped her fix her bloodied bed and change clothes.

Doon talaga kami naging magkaibigan,” Elma told Daily Tribune, stressing how she grew close to Lydia.

Four years later, at age 16, Elma became the first Filipino woman to win the long jump at the 8th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and harvest a record 15 gold medals from the competition.

Elma Muros in shotput action at the 2001 SEA Games Heptathlon event. Photo by Ernie Sarmiento.

She went on to join the national team at the Olympics and other international competitions.

Elma was dubbed “Asia’s Long Jump Queen.”

Elma Muros in 1991. Dubbed Asia’s Long Jump Queen, Muros excelled as well in other track and field events in the ’90s. Photo by Ernie Sarmiento.

Lydia, meanwhile, was crowned “Asia’s Fastest Woman” after finishing the 100-meter dash in 11.53 seconds at the 1982 Asian Games.

She bagged a total of nine SEA Games gold medals, the last one from the 1993 edition in Singapore. She had also won in 53 international competitions.

Elma Muros, Asia’s Long Jump Queen. | ROMEO GACAD/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Spirit of competition

They were like siblings — Lydia, standing at 5’7,” was the ate or elder sister to Elma who was 5’4”.

Journalists, however, pitted the two queens of Philippine sports against each other. So fierce was their spirit of competition that it bordered on such trivial matters as who’s prettier or who’s richer.

“We were like the Nora (Aunor) and Vilma (Santos)in our world,” Elma said, laughing. “But little did they know that we remained close friends even when media was playing up that angle. The only thing I can say is that Diay remained humble even when she was already a superstar.”

Elma said Lydia had told her: “Grabe El, ang suwerte ng mga bata ngayon.”

Lydia was referring to their time when sports training meant not just spending long hours of practice but also making do with whatever shoes, old uniforms or food was available according to their meager subsidy as national athletes.

Back then, athletes were like soldiers moving from one deployment to another. As women, Elma and Lydia felt a sense of isolation and loneliness, being away from their families for long periods.

But the trials and tribulations of these two top Filipino athletes inspired them to mentor the younger generation.

Elma works as a coach in an international school.

Lydia was a consultant at the Philippine Sports Commission and then accepted a coaching post in Singapore.

Lydia de Vega, 1988 Seoul Olympics. Photo by Ernie Sarmiento.

Breast cancer

Marriage and motherhood lessened their communication, said Elma. The last time they met up was at the 2019 SEA Games held in the Philippines, with Lydia as one of the flag bearers of the national contingent and Elma marching along.

Before the opening ceremonies, Lydia asked Elma to help her dress up in the locker room. Elma was very happy to see her again.

Lydia de Vega in 1988 Seoul Olympics. Photo by Ernie Sarmiento.

“She started undressing and handed me her T-shirt. Doon ako napaiyak talaga,” Elma recalled. For the first time, Lydia revealed she had breast cancer.

Elma was on the verge of tears and said, “Bakit ’di mo sinabi sa akin?

“But Diay was never one who would look for sympathy, no matter what challenges or struggles she was facing. Tahimik at matapang siya. Mas gusto niyang alagaan ang iba kaysa sa kanya. Ganyan siya kabait.”

That was the last time they were together. On 10 August, Lydia de Vega lost her battle with breast cancer.

Malaki ang pasasalamat ko kay Diay. Siya talaga ang nagbukas ng pinto sa Pilipinong atleta na katulad ko. Naging inspirasyon talaga siya. At ’di din siya tumigil na suportahan ang maraming batang atleta ngayon — kahit nung may sakit na siya — kahit sa simpleng pag-encourage lang. Sobrang laking bagay na yon na masabihang kaya mo, lalo na kung galing kay Lydia de Vega,” Elma said.


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