It is a sad day for Philippine sports today.
One of the nation’s greatest athletes, Lydia De Vega, passed away after a four-year battle with cancer. Her daughter, Stephanie Mercado, made the announcement on Facebook on Wednesday night.
The track star was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in 2018. Her daughter described it as “the biggest race of her life.”
Although the race may now be over, Lydia De Vega’s memory and legacy will live on.
Becoming Asia’s sprint queen
In the 1980s, Lydia De Vega was considered “Asia’s fastest woman.” The title was fitting for all her successes.
She began collecting international medals at the young age of 15. In the Asian Track & Field Championship in 1979, she won a bronze medal for the 4×400-meter relay. In the same year, she also won medals for four different events in the ASEAN School Championship.
Clearly, she was an all-around athlete. And at a time when internationally competitive athletes in the Philippines were not as common, this was a huge deal.
So, in her first Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 1979, she competed in five events: the 400m, the 4x100m relay, the 4x400m relay, the 100m, and the long jump. However, she did not win any medals.
She dropped one of her events, the long jump, and focused on sprinting instead. And that was when things really began to heat up for De Vega.
The following year, she competed in the ASEAN Cup and won two gold medals in the 200-meter and 400-meter events. That same year, she also recorded the best time in a one-lap event by an Asian woman, clocking 54.6 seconds for 400 meters.
And that was how Asia’s sprint queen started her illustrious career.
She held the record for over three decades
In the 1981 SEA Games, she redeemed herself from her medal-less campaign in 1979. She won the gold medal for the 200-meter and the 400-meter events, and on home soil, bringing immense pride to the country.
In the Asian Games that same year, she again won another gold in the 100-meter event.
And through the years, the medals and records just continued to snowball. In total, she has nine gold medals from the SEA Games, two from the Asian Games, and four from the Asian Athletics Championships.
De Vega also represented the Philippines in the Olympics in 1984 and in 1988.
But apart from her competitions and her many medals, it was really her national records that made her stand out from the rest.
In 1987, Lydia broke the Philippine record for the 100-meter event with a time of 11.28 seconds. She held the record for 33 years until it was broken in 2020.
De Vega also held the national record for the 200-meter event and 400-meter event for 32 years. The Filipina was undisputed, and after holding three records for over three decades each, she will forever remain one of the greatest athletes the Philippines has ever had.
The legacy left behind
Over the years, more and more Filipino athletes have been getting the opportunity to compete and prove themselves at international events. And many of them have been inspired by athletes who have conquered the odds before, one of them of course, is Lydia De Vega.
Gretchen Ho, a former volleyball player who played alongside De Vega’s daughter, Stephanie Mercado, even expressed how the track and field legend inspired her.
As a young athlete who had the chance to play alongside her daughter @paneng_mercado, we were very much inspired by tales of our teammate’s mom.— Gretchen Ho (@gretchenho) August 10, 2022
Pagpupugay at salamat sa inspirasyon sa aming mga atleta 🙏🏻🇵🇭
It is stories like this that remind us that when it comes to athletes, they are more than just the records they break and the medals they win. A huge part of who they are lives within the inspiration they give others.
It has been over 40 years since she won her first medal, and nearly 30 since her last. But even so, her story and legacy will continue to live on in all our athletes and achievers long after her.