Vega’s Legendary Lydia Steps To Greatness
MANILA, Philippines — Filipino sport lost a legend as athletics icon Lydia de Vega died Wednesday, August 11, after a four-year battle with cancer.
Once touted as Asia’s queen of sprinting, De Vega – affectionately known as Diay – helped put the country on the athletics map following her stellar international exploits that will forever be etched in Philippine sporting tradition.
Here are some quick facts about De Vega:
De Vega didn’t earn Asia’s fastest woman status for nothing.
Throughout her career, she has won 15 gold, 6 silver and 3 bronze medals for a total of 24 medals in international competitions, namely the Asian Athletics Championships, Asian Games and the Southeast Asian Games.
De Vega has competed in various events including the 200m, 400m and 4×400 races.
But it was in the 100m that she shone brightest, winning the event at the 1982 and 1986 Asian Games and the 1983 and 1987 Asian Athletics Championships to earn the distinction of continental queen of the sprint.
Her national 100m record of 11.28 seconds stood for more than three decades before Filipino-American Kristina Knott broke it in 2020.
In an impressive display of her athletic prowess, De Vega even won a gold medal in the long jump at the 1987 SEA Games to go along with the 100m and 200m titles she won at that edition of the biennial competition.
Arguably the brightest star in athletics of the 1980s, De Vega also competed at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and 1988 in Seoul.
De Vega has paired its unrivaled speed with remarkable longevity.
Even when she took a break from 1989 to 1991, De Vega looked like she hadn’t lost a step as she won two more gold medals in the 100m and 200m events at the SEA Games in 1993 before retiring the following year.
Her unprecedented success landed her a spot in the Philippine Sports Hall of Fame, where De Vega was inducted in 2018, the same year she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It wasn’t easy being an athlete, it wasn’t easy winning,” De Vega said in Filipino during her Hall of Fame acceptance speech.
“It was not easy to do all the things that allowed me to be one of the distinguished athletes who receive this honor. I am happy to be part of the Hall of Fame.
Lydia first trained under the tutelage of her father and trainer Francisco “Tatang” de Vega.
A former policeman, Tatang earned a reputation as a strict and controlling – sometimes even cruel – mentor who put Lydia through intense training, which ultimately shaped her to become a champion.
When Tatang passed away in 2010, Lydia admitted in her wake that there were times she wondered why she chose athletics when her father pushed her to her physical limits.
But looking back on her career, Lydia credited Tatang for her accomplishments.
“Without Tatang, there would be no Lydia de Vega,” she said in Filipino. “Tatang is the best athletic coach this country has ever had.”
The sport seems to run in the De Vegas blood as Stephanie Mercado-de Koenigswarter, one of Lydia’s three children with her husband Paul Mercado, became a volleyball player.
Like her mother, Stephanie proved to be a winner as she captured three UAAP Championships with the La Salle Lady Spikers.
Stephanie, nicknamed “Paneng”, has also played professionally with the Cignal HD Spikers and the Petro Gazz Angels.
De Vega found success outside of athletics as she dabbled in media and politics.
In 1982, De Vega represented herself in Medalyang Gintoa film about her life that details her rise to becoming an international champion.
De Vega starred with Tony Santos and Perla Bautista, who played his parents.
Fast forward to the early 2000s, De Vega co-hosted Doubles teama weekly sports program on IBC 13.
She also served as a councilor from her home town of Meycauayan to Bulacan.
Riding into the sunset
De Vega did not fully retire from the sport as she eventually pursued a coaching career in Singapore.
Choosing to keep a low profile, his last public appearance was at the 2019 SEA Games, where De Vega was one of the flag bearers for the SEA Games Federation flag during the opening ceremony at the Philippine Arena.
There she joined fellow Filipino legends Akiko Thomson, Eric Buhain, Alvin Patrimonio, Bong Coo, Efren “Bata” Reyes, Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco and Rafael “Paeng” Nepomuceno.
Flashing his bright and infectious smile, it was still hidden from the public at the time that De Vega had already been diagnosed with cancer.
It wasn’t until July 2022 that the De Vega family revealed her condition, and less than a month later she died at Makati Medical Center.
But even when De Vega passed away, she left a lasting legacy for generations of Filipino athletes.
Pole vault star EJ Obiena, whose international success is compared to that of De Vega, has previously said the former queen of Asian athletics served as an inspiration to her quest for glory.
“I am here today because I stand on the shoulders of giants, the legends of Filipino athletics who paved the way for me, who brought attention and success to athletics,” said Obiena.
“I owe them a debt of gratitude. I thank them for the road they have paved for us in competition today. – Rappler.com