Philippines, 02 Mar 2021
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OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Thanks for the Memories

Lydia De Vega.

“Mag-interbyuhan na naman ba tayo? Thus were Lydia de Vega’s first words as we and her daughter Paneng (Stephanie) sat on a table in a restaurant beneath THE MANILA TIMES building following a SCOOP Sports Communicators Organization) session one afternoon a few weeks before the 30th Southeast Asian Games the country was about to host in 2019.

Diay and Paneng were guests at that’s SCOOP Session where they aired their views and projections on the coming SEA Games. “Habang buhay na tayong nag-i-interbyuhan noong tumatakbo pa ako and I’m sure lahat ng naisulat mo in regards to my career ay nabasa na ng readers mo.”

“Eh kasi marami pa ring nagtatanong kung ano na nangyari sa'yo mula noong nagpunta ka sa Singapore to teach there after the 2005 SEA Games,” this writer insisted.

“Eh di sige, yun na lang ang pag-usapan natin, The rest regarding my career, i-rehash mo na lang kung isusulat mo,” she said. "Anyway, ikaw naman ang unofficial PR ko noon, di ba?”

I didn’t write anything about that conversation until I came to see excerpts of that interview sometime last week. And I thought maybe because I would be writing this piece on the day Diay was celebrating her 56th birthday on December 26, I decided to do this column as a tribute to her.

Besides, this is my last column for THE MANILA TIMES. Due to some unavoidable circumstance, I have to leave this paper, where I started my sports journalism career 50 years ago since 1971 and my job as a newspaperman 62 years ago in 1958 when I was hired as a newspaper carrier tasked with delivering copies of this paper and and sister publications DAILY MIRROR and TALIBA.

Diay, you see, left the country following her firing as a Philippine Sports Commission consultant right after the Philippines won the SEA Games overall championship 15 years ago along with several other former athletes as baseball’s Boy Codinera, basketball’s Turo Valenzona and trackster Mona Sulaiman, among others, and accepted a long standing offer to coach in at least four educational institutions in that Island City.

“That’s it. Since I arrived in Singapore, nagturo na ako ng sprint, mostly in elementary school level.“ she related. “And as of this date (2019), naka produce na ako ng fresh and young talents who became members of that country’s national team.”

“Masaya because yun nga, my efforts have bore fruits after a decade and-a-half,“ Diay narrated. “Malungkot din, kasi instead of mga Pilipino ang natuto sa mga turo ko, mga Singaporean na magiging kalaban pa natin in the future.”

“But ano magagawa ko, this is my profession and it is my job to teach, kahit anong lahi pa mga estudyante ko,” she lamented. “I wanted sana to impart what I’ve earned as an international athlete, pero hindi tayo pinalad ma-appoint na coach dito sa sarili nating bansa.”

“That’s also the problem of my contemporaries na nasa kalagayan ko ngayon sa ibang bansa,” she noted. “Halos lahat kami gusto naming dito magsilbe sa ating kabataan, pero wala kaming lugar dito.”

“That’s what makes former athletes lives sad. Hindi kami ma-tap to serve our future athletes tapos naming makapag-silbe as campaigners as well,” Diay bewailed. “Hindi mo naman masasabing mga bobo kami at wala kaming natutuhan sa pagiging atleta.”

Incidentally, Diay celebrated her rise as "Asia’s Fastest Woman” and "Asia’s Sprint Queen” in 1979 where she started victorious in almost every races she saw action with. As per this writer’s account, Diay had participated in 95 races since she was discovered a year or so earlier.

Of this total, 53 were in the international field, including a pair of International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) championships. During the SCOOP’s Awards Night that year, when she was enshrined to the organizations’ Hall of Fame, De Vega had won 14 gold medals in her favorite 100 meters, eight in 200 meters, three in 400 meters and two in long jump.

She also competed in triple jump, an event introduced for women in 1990, which she won in her first try in the 1993 National Open.

Diay was the first and the only woman athlete to rule the 100 meters back-top-back in the Asian Games of 1982 in New Delhi in and 1986 in Seoul.

She, too, won a are two golden sprint double in the Asian Amateur Athletic Association (4 As) championships in 1983 in Singapore and 1987 in Jakarta, the city where she scored a triple whammy by ruling the 100 meters, 200 meters and long jump in the 14th SEA Games.

Ironically, it was also in that Indonesian premier city where she came home with zero medal during the 1985 4As meet.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eddie Alinea of The Manila Times.

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