AT AROUND 10 p.m. on a Wednesday night, a heartbreaking moment woke and shaken to the core Philippine sports — Lydia “Diay” de Vega-Mercado, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Philippine athletes of all time, has sprinted her way to the finish line for her final race.
The once fastest woman in Asia lost a race to breast cancer on this one tranquil night after quietly and gallantly battling it for four years.
It was a fight that inevitably ended the life of the once proud, mighty Ms. De Vega-Mercado, who lorded over not just Southeast Asia but the whole Asian region in the 80s.
Ms. De Vega-Mercado’s daughter, Stephanie de Koenigswarter, bared the melancholic passing of the legendary athlete who is considered as having won the most medals in the sport in the international meets — two Asian Games golds, four Asian Championship victories and nine Southeast Asian Games mints.
She was 57.
An outpouring of tributes followed, including one from someone who discovered the fallen heroine — former Gintong Alay head Michael Keon.
“I’m very sad that Lydia passed away and I hope her passing should not be in vain,” Mr. Keon, a second-term Mayor of Laoag City, on Thursday told The STAR. “She’s a pioneer and she’s perhaps the most bemedaled Filipino athletes, not just in track and field, but in all sports.
“She must be remembered not in vain,” he added.
Mr. Keon said he, along with other Gintong Alay athletes and coaches like Tony Benson and Ace Cuda, will attend the wake of their former teammate to pay their final respects.
“I’m suggesting a big condolences and get-together in the old Gintong Alay camp in Baguio (City), but it would be up to the family,” he said.
Renato Unso and Elma Muros-Posadas, former Gintong Alay teammates, said Ms. De Vega-Mercado was a great athlete and a greater person.
“It’s sad to lose someone like Lydia de Vega. She’s generous, kind and humble, a symbol of a true great athlete, and has respect to her fellowmen,” said Mr. Unso.
“I’m deeply saddened that Diay is gone because in all of our events in Gintong Alay in 1981, we’re always together and most of the pictures we had in competition, we were always besides each other.”
“That’s why it’s hard to accept that Diay is gone already. We were like Vilma (Santos) and Nora (Aunor) if this is showbiz,” she added. — Joey Villar