So long, Lydia – the Asian track queen of the 80s

Legendary: Lydia de Vega during the opening ceremony of the Manila SEA Games in 2019.

PETALING JAYA: The Asian track queen of the 1980s Lydia de Vega-Mercado of the Philippines passed away on Wednesday after battling cancer for four years. She was 57.

The darling of the Philippines athletics scene, Lydia became the fastest woman in Asia when she stunned India’s P.T. Usha in the New Delhi Asian Games in 1982 and repeated the feat in Seoul four years later.

A product of the famous Gintong Alay project, Lydia was peerless at the SEA Games where she won nine golds, including three 100m-200m doubles (1987, 1991, 1993).

She was also a double gold winner (100m-200m) at the 1983 and 1987 Asian Track and Field Championships.

Lydia’s athletics career took off at the 1981 Manila SEA Games where she won the 200m-400m double at the age of 16 before her reign in the 100m sprint started.

After her retirement in 1994, she worked with the Philippines Sports Commission (PSC) briefly and later as an athletics coach in Singapore for 10 years, mostly with the junior athletes.

Lydia was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 and has been battling it silently, and her daughter Stephanie (Paneng) Mercado-de Koenigswarter had revealed last month that her mother was in critical condition.

PSC commissioner Bong Coo, one of the Philippines’ bowling superstars in the 80s, said the country is mourning an irreplaceable loss to the sports community.

“A sad day for Philippines sports,” said Bong Coo in a statement.

“I grieve as an athlete and friend. Lydia is my contemporary. It is such a big loss to Philippine sports.

“I was even counting on her to help me in my tasks as Commissioner since she was a PSC consultant for a long time.”

Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also paid tribute to the country’s most decorated sportswoman.

“Lydia ‘Diay’ de Vega-Mercado’s demise is a big loss to us ... She will long be remembered by the nation. May her achievements motivate other Filipino athletes to aspire to excellence in their chosen sport,” Arroyo told the Philippines News Agency.

Lydia was honoured during the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines as one of the flag bearers, which was one of her last public appearances.

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Lydia de Vega-Mercado , cancer , dies


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