MANILA (UPDATE) — Lydia de Vega, a Filipino sports icon once considered Asia's fastest woman, passed away after a battle with cancer, her daughter announced Wednesday night.
De Vega was 57.
"On behalf of our family, it is with absolute grief that I announce the death of my mother, Lydia De Vega this evening, August 10, 2022, at the Makati Medical Center," Stephanie Mercado-de Koenigswarter wrote on Facebook.
"She fought the very good fight and is now at peace."
De Vega was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, and Mercado-de Koenigswarter said in July that her mother was in "very critical condition" because of the disease.
Help poured in for de Vega from Philippine sporting circles, with pole vaulter EJ Obiena and his team pledging P500,000.
De Vega — born on December 12, 1964, in Meycauayan city, Bulacan — is one of the Philippines' greatest athletes and one of its most recognizable sportswomen.
She won nine gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games and two golds in the Asian Games. She was also a two-time Olympian (Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988).
She set a personal best of 11.28 seconds in the 100-meters, a national record that stood for 33 years, until it was broken by Kristina Knott in 2020.
De Vega also dabbled in acting. Her most famous role was the lead in "Medalyang Ginto", a movie released in 1982 where she portrayed herself and which delved into her struggles and triumphs training to become a champion.
Her last public appearance was during the opening ceremony of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, hosted by the Philippines.
Michael Keon, head of the Gintong Alay sports program in the early 1980s, said he considered De Vega the country’s best track athlete.
Gintong Alay was the precursor to the Philippine Sports Commission.
“The fact that she won gold medals not only in the Southeast Asian Games, not only in the Asian track and field championship, but also the Asian Games was a testimony to her innate speed,” Keon said in an interview with Chino Trinidad posted on the PinoyAthletics 2.0 YouTube account.
In recent years, De Vega — affectionately called "Diay" by her peers — coached athletes both from the Philippines and Singapore. In 2020, she said coaching opportunities fared better in foreign countries such as Singapore due to better treatment and work security.
Even though she had a pleasant experiences training athletes abroad, she relished her time coaching aspiring Filipino sprinters more.
"Para sa'kin, mas maganda pa rin dito. But then, ang problema kasi 'yung opportunity sa amin (trainers) is not that big (dito) ... 'yung ibang bansa ang nagbibigay sa amin ng opportunity," she said in an interview with Scoop sports program.
De Vega once shared how tough it was for her during her sprinting career. She recalled how her father and trainer, Francisco "Tatang" De Vega, made her endure exhausting drills that helped her growing up.
Whenever she cried due to the training pressure, Tatang, "who was strict in everything when it comes to her", pushed Lydia to do more.
"Minsan naiinis ako sa tatay ko, nagagalit ako. Wala ako magawa kasi tatay ko 'yun, coach ko 'yun, kailangan ko sumunod. 'Pag pumupunta ako sa starting point, umiiyak ako. Galit na galit ako sa sarili ko ... Andami-daming sports, ba't track-and-field ang napili ko, takbo lang ako ng takbo. Ang pahinga ko, lakad," she said.
"'Pag last na 'yung workout—let's say I'm doing 200 meters—dahil sa galit ko sa sarili ko at sa galit ko sa tatay ko, tatakbuhin ko talaga ng mas mabilis 'yun."
Her anger always turns to joy, though after she reaches the finish line when she realizes she was faster than before, De Vega chuckled.
"Hindi mo na iisipin mag-give up kasi na-prove mo sa sarili mo na, 'kaya ko pala. Natatakot lang ako.' Hindi ako pwede magpatakot sa iniisip ko. Kailangan ko magpadala dun sa kakayanan ko," she said.
She attributed her successful career to her late father.
"Kung wala si Tatang, wala si Lydia."