Tributes and tears flow at the end of a legend’s final race
With long strides like a gazelle’s, the determination to be great, and the charisma of a girl from the province, Lydia de Vega gave a different meaning to the phrase track-and-field star.
She was the Philippines’ first true mega-star on the track, where her achievements are unmatched to the modern day – more than three decades past her prime.
De Vega ran her final race – the one for her life – Wednesday night, succumbing to a long battle with breast cancer and leaving in tears a grateful nation that said goodbye to a legend who was this country’s pride for so many years.
Born a day after Christmas in Meycauayan, Bulacan, in 1964, De Vega burst into the limelight with golds in the 200 and 400 meters of the 1981 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Manila, where her winning times obliterated records in the Asian Games.
That was the start of great things to come, and the start of a love affair with a country that was looking to adore athletes who weren’t playing on a basketball court.
“She’s a real superstar, a real darling of the press, the darling of the nation,” Elma Muros-Posadas, the long jump queen who is one of De Vega’s closest friends, told the Inquirer in Filipino over the phone Wednesday night. “We had so many great memories together—memories borne out of our hard work and love for our country.”
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also paid tribute to De Vega: “Lydia de Vega has run her last race. She has finished her contest. She has fought a good fight. Let us pray for her peace.”
“My sincerest condolences to her family and loved ones,” the President said in a statement.
Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino and several national Olympic committee (NOC) heads of other countries also expressed their grief over De Vega’s passing.
“Another sad day for Philippine sports, and although we lost a great icon, she made an imprint on the hearts of all the people she inspired,” Tolentino said on Thursday.
“On behalf of Brunei Darussalam NOC, I would like to convey our sincere condolences to the Philippines NOC and the family of the late Lydia de Vega,” Brunei NOC president Prince Haji Sufri Bolkiah told Tolentino in a message.
“Brother President Tolentino, our deepest condolences to the family of the late Lydia de Vega and all Philippines NOC,” said Indonesia Olympic Committee president Raja Sapta Oktohari. “May she rest In peace.”
“We received this news with sadness. On behalf of NOCT, allow us to express our deepest condolences to the POC and the family of the late Lydia de Vega,” wrote Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, the president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand. “Her legacy continues to live on. May she Rest In Peace.”
De Vega’s biggest victories came in the century dash of the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi, where she beat hometown bet P. T. Usha, and four years later in Seoul. She became Asia’s fastest woman by sweeping the 100 and 200 golds in the Asian Athletics Championships in 1983 and 1987.
Muros-Posadas then wept unabashedly when she recalled the last time she saw De Vega at Makati Medical Center. The two saw each other during the 2019 SEA Games Opening Ceremonies, which feted the Philippines’ athletic heroes of the past. But until that hospital visit, Muros-Posadas had no idea De Vega was sick.
“Looking at her, I asked the Lord if it was true that Diay (De Vega’s nickname) was the one lying there,” Muros-Posadas said, losing it and barely audible. “I really couldn’t believe seeing her in that state. I was telling her behind a glass panel that ‘this cannot happen to you, you’re Lydia de Vega, my idol.’”
Muros-Posadas has accepted it and is praying that her best friend finds eternal peace.
“I still would like to think that it wasn’t Diay that I saw there,” she said. “But it is what it is. The Good Lord has plans for all of us. I can only console myself on the fact that she is not suffering anymore.”
The country probably feels the same, after it was revealed by her daughter Stephanie that Diay’s battle with breast cancer started in 2018. The disease metastasized into her bone and brain which made it super painful even for Asia’s former sprint queen.
During the middle of the conversation, Muros-Posadas reminded the Inquirer of the greatness of De Vega—how dedicated she and the other members of the track and field team were back in the day.
“Before I came to Manila, I was only reading about her or hearing her name on the radio. She instantly became my idol,” Muros-Posadas said. “I even slept for a time in their home and I got to know what she really was.
“She gave it her absolute all. I really felt deep in my heart then, and even now, that I didn’t make a mistake idolizing her.”
A lot of Filipinos will share Elma’s views, especially the people whom De Vega had glued to their seats and cheering for her during those all-too-swift moments that the lass from Meycauayan was dominating foreign opposition.
Her races, by their nature, were fleeting. And at age 57, so was her life.
Lydia de Vega, a Filipino heroine unequaled on the tracks, answered her final starting gun and has gone home.