MANILA, Philippines – Lydia de Vega was Philippine sports in the 1980s.
In action, she was unforgettable – her long legs unleashed that powerful gazelle-like stride, which, at the height of her power, was smooth and delivered with utmost relaxation. Her upper body would be straight, arms swinging easy.
Once De Vega crossed the finish line, a wonderful smile and a wave of her hand would follow.
Though friendly, De Vega would transform into a fierce competitor before a race. Never would she acknowledge a greeting from a rival in the warmup area. Never would she nod to a friend. She was focused and disciplined on track – traits her father and mentor Francisco “Tatang” de Vega instilled in her.
De Vega became the toast of the country by reigning in the 200- and 400-meter races in the 1981 Southeast Asian Games in Manila.
Fondly called Diay, she proved to be Asia’s fastest as De Vega captured four Asian Athletics Championships – two in 1983 and two more in 1987 – and bagged two Asian Games gold medals in 1982 and 1986.
Filipinos also relished her golden 100m dash in in the 1991 and 1993 SEA Games, where an older Lydia still proved to be a queen.
De Vega was a charismatic sports heroine, a woman who made Filipinos proud. And that’s what many remember her by. (READ: Sports icon Lydia de Vega dies after four-year cancer battle)
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“I join the entire nation in mourning the untimely demise of former Asian sprint queen Lydia 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.”
Philip Ella Juico, former Philippine Sports Commission chairman and former Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association president
“Had Diay stayed a bit longer in this life, she would have continued to have been a role model and an inspiration as an authentic Filipino athlete who genuinely loved sports for the good it could do and not for what she could get out of it. She knew that a force for good like sports should bring out the best in people. Diay joins many other sporting greats who fought the good fight and finished the race with their principles intact.”
Dyan Castillejo, sports broadcaster and former Philippine tennis player
“Lydia was always our big superstar in PH delegation in every SEA Games and Asian games. Super hardworking, determined, world-class sprinter. Her strength of character plus incredible skill made her Asia’s fastest woman in the ’80s and ’90s.
“She was the absolute QUEEN of the track. I remember the days with her coach Tatang. They were an incredible pair and became champions together.
“When she moved to Singapore after her career, I didn’t see her much but I was so happy to catch up with her at the Singapore SEA Games in 2015. Super kwento that she she was super happy and doing incredibly well in her coaching career in Singapore. We watched some of the track events and cheered for our Filipino athletes
“If you haven’t seen Lydia on the track, you must watch her beautiful stride. A class on her own.“
Senator Risa Hontiveros
“Lydia de Vega left an everlasting international legacy and the impact of her spirit cements her as one of our best.
“As an elite athlete and two-time Olympian, her feet were magical when she ran track.
“As a coach and mentor, her competitive spirit inspired many Filipinos wanting to be their best.
“And as one of the most recognizable female athletes in the country, her brilliance encouraged many women and young girls to reach our full potential and continue her legacy – to win, to take space, and to keep coming back for more.
“Truly, Lydia de Vega lived the life of a true legend: showing the world how to be a champion in athletics and a hero to others beyond the world of sports.”
Abraham ‘Bambol’ Tolentino, Philippine Olympic Committee president
“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.
“Her story will always be a success story to all athletes that Filipinos are capable of being in the pedestal specially to those who dream and pursue it.”
Michael Keon, former Gintong Alay head
“On behalf of the City Government of Laoag, I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Lydia de Vega…
“Lydia was one of the 20 original athletes who trained in Baguio City under the Gintong Alay Project. She dominated track and field in Asia during her time earning her the title Asia’s Sprint Queen.”
House Speaker Martin Romualdez
“Lydia de Vega was one of the greatest and the most decorated Filipino athletes …
“Her death highlights the need of our government and the private sector to support Filipino athletes not only when they are physically healthy and physically able to compete but in retirement as well.”