Without Tatang there would be no Lydia de Vega
By Eddie Alinea
Thu, 30 Dec 2010
“Very strict … super strict.”
This was how former Asian Sprint Queen Lydia de Vega-Mercado described his late father-coach Francisco Tatang” de Vega.
“Super-duper, I tell you,” she said in between sobs in an interview during Tatang’s wake last Monday at the family residence in Barangay Calvario, Meycauayan City.
“All throughout my athletics life, from the time I started trying my luck as a runner when I was 12 until the time I retired 17 years later in 1995, I really felt how strict a disciplinarian Tatang was. There were times when I blamed myself for choosing track and field as my vehicle to be able to study and as a way of life.
“Pero in the end, noong ma-reap ko na ang fruits of all my sacrifices. Our sacrifices I should say, by winning medals after medals and breaking Philippine, Southeast Asian Games and Asian Games records, nawala lahat ang paghihirap ko,” she said.
“In the end, I would tell myself, tama pala si Tatang. Yung mga ginawa niya sa aking pagpapahirap to attain excellence, tama lahat. I was hailed, not only by our countrymen, but, likewise, by our neighbors in the region, De Vega-Mercado, “Diay” to the local and international track and field community, said.
“I was even regarded, not only as Queen of Sprint, but also ‘Darling of Asian Athletics.’ And when I finally hung my running sneakers, I told him and I told everybody with head up high whenever I was asked to speak in any gathering, kung wala si Tatang, walang Lydia de Vega na nakapaghatid ng karangalan sa bansa at sa pangalang Pilipino” Diay, who turned 46 on the very same day Tatang joined his Creator last December 26, declared.
Indeed, in all her speaking engagements, Diay, mother of two to husband Paolo, takes pride telling his audience in having Tatang as her father. How great a father he was, not only to her but all her five other siblings. And how a great provider he was to their mother Mary.
“To all those, who witnessed how he brought me up as an athlete ay nagsabing malupit siya. Napakalupit. Even I, even at the height of my popularity and career, thought, at times, that he was cruel. Too cruel, in fact, considering that I am his daughter,” she recalled.
“He controlled my life. Gusto niya sundin ko lahat ng sinasabi niya. Wala siyang mali sa ginagawa niya sa akin. Siyempre umiyak ako. There were times I felt I was dying. Each and every workout, I have to finish. Walang pahi-pahinga. Pag nagkamali, sasaktan, sasabihan ng masasama,” Diay the first woman athlete to win the Asian Games centerpiece 100 meters back-to-back in 1982 and 1986, reminisced.
“During training, di dapat makipagtawanan. Di dapat makipagkuwentuhan. Kailangan 100 percent naka-focus sa ensayo. Walang dapat isipin,” she said. “Kahit tapos na ang ensaqyo, bawal sa aking makipagusap sa lalaki. Kahit sa bahay di dapat tumanggap ng manliligaw. Bawal akong ligawan.”
“I felt so bad day in and ay out while training. First, training is not easy. Sumusuka ako nang walang maisuka, nahihilo, nahihirapang huminga. Pero pagkatapos ng workout, masarap na rin ang pakiramdam in the thought that I have accomplished something in the day. I realized na ginagawa niya sa akin yun so I can hone up my running skills, which, no doubt, I did,” she said.
While her life was full of sacrifices, Diay said, Tatang’s too. Magkasama kami maghapon. Studies in the morning, training in the afternoon until early evening. FEU, Rizal Memorial, bahay. Yun ang naging buhay naming dalawa sa loob ng 17-year career ko,” she said.
“It’s like pinapalo natin ang anak natin hindi sa galit tayo sa kanila, but to get the best in them, di ba? Pinupukpok natin ang alimango hindi dahil galit tayo dito, but para makuha ang laman nito. Ganun ang naging reaction naming lahat ng magkakapatid sa mga ginagawang ka-istriktuhan ni Tatang,” Diaz philosophized.
“As a result, we all grew up and become good citizens in the community. Wala sa aming nagloko. Ako, siyempre sumikat because I excelled in my chosen career. My brothers became good husbands and fathers and my sisters, good wives and mothers. All because Tatang made us toed the line. Sinunod naming ang lahat nang gusto niya,” Diay explained.
Behind his strictness or, as his critics perceived, cruelty, Tatang, Diay defended, was very loving and protective. Yung pagmamahal niya sa amin, hindi makikita, pero maramdaman.”
Perhaps because Tatang was a former policeman, Diay said he was very protective. No one dared do all of his children and even Aleng Mary harm.
When the then Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association top brass wanted her to shift to middle distance, Tatang vehemently refused to the extent that he was sent back to Manila from the Baguio City training camp, Diay recalled.
“Tatang argued that I was then too young to run the 800 meters and, much more, the 1,500 meters and 3,000 meters. Hanggang 400 meters lang daw ako the most. I was asked to choose between pursuing my running career and Tatang, I chose him. So I followed him to Manila that led to my untimely, albeit, temporary retirement in the early 80s. Mahal pala niya ako, I told myself” she said.
Those brief moments did not stop the father-daughter tandem though from training. “Kahit walang karera at wala na ako sa national team, practice pa rin. Ganun pa ring. Bahay, school, track oval, uwi uli ng bahay. “
“One time, during that dull moment, the Philippines was invited to participate in an athletics meet in Beijing. I was not in the team that left, but because the newspapers played the news up, the then First Lady, Mrs. Imelda Marcos summoned Tatang and myself to Malacanang. Tinanong kung ready akong mag-compete. Nakakahiya daw sa China na wala sa team ang Asian Sprint Queen,” she remembered.
“Then she told both of us to fly to Beijing the next morning. From the airport, we sent straight to the stadium, participate in the finals of the 100 meters without the benefit of racing in the preliminaries and won. Chinese athletics officials told us, I didn’t have to qualify into the finals as a diplomatic gesture” Diay recalled.
“And the rest was history. I was readmitted in the national team where I stayed for a dozen more years us, father and daughter, earning glories to the country.
“Si Tagang walang diplomang nagsasaad na nagtapos siya ng kolehiyo. Ang dunong niya sa coaching ay matatawag na uido lamang. Pero ang disiplinang ipinairal niya sa akin sa training at hanggang sa kompetisyon ang naging dahilan kung bakit ako naging si Lydia de Vega,” she pointed out.
“I have said this many times before and I am saying this again, kung wala si Tatang, wala si Lydia de Vega, she said. “ Meaning kung wala si Tatang, walang karangalan marahil na matatamo ang Pilipinas sa larangan ng track and field. Ipinagmamalaki ko ‘yan sa habang buhay ko..Tatang is the best track and field coach, this country has ever had,”
Testimony to this, of course, is Diay’s records – a pair of Asian Games gold medals, Asian and an equal number of Asian Amateur Athletics Association victories, Asiad and Asian Continental records and no less than 20 Southeast Asian Games and ASEAN championships gold medal performances.
Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eddie Alinea.
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