‘Philippines has so much talent’

Joey Villar - The Philippine Star
�Philippines has so much talent�
Weightlifting world champ Hidilyn Diaz shines as the Athlete of the Year awardee during the PSA Awards Night Monday at the Diamond Hotel. Presenting the award is PSA president Rey Lachica.
Jun Mendoza

MANILA, Philippines — Focus on talent scouting.

Former Gintong Alay executive director Michael Keon gave this unsolicited advice to Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richard Bachmann after the former paid tribute to the greatest athlete he has ever produced from the grassroots program – the late Lydia de Vega-Mercado.

“There’s so much talent in Philippine sports and this is why when the chairman of the PSC came to visit me in Laoag, we talked to one another about what is most important when it comes to Philippine sports now and I made a suggestion to him that the PSC along with the NSAs (national sports associations) should concentrate in talent scouting,” said Keon during a tribute speech for De Vega-Mercado, who was elevated by the Philippine Sportswriters Association to Hall of Fame status during its awarding rites at the posh Diamond Hotel Monday night.

“There’s so much talent in this country that falls through the cracks of the system and it’s really sad so this is why I suggested to him (Bachmann) and I believe he is listening to me and he would initiate talent scouting,” added the incumbent mayor of Laoag City.

Proof of the pudding was Keon’s Gintong Alay product, De Vega-Mercado, who at a tender age of 16 years in 1980, or the year after the creation of the fabled Gintong Alay was created, broke the Philippine, Southeast Asian and Asian Games records in one memorable run in the 400 meters of the UAAP versus Gintong Alay meet.

De Vega-Mercado would later win two gold medals in the Asian Games, four in the Asian Athletics Championships and nine in the SEA Games and set numerous records that cemented her status as one of the best, if not the best, athletes the country has produced.

And Keon believed she could have won more.

“We had 22 athletes, one was Lydia and we went to Baguio, trained for six months and in the UAAP vs. Gintong Alay in May, 1980, Lydia ran the 400m and she broke Asiad, SEA Games and Philippine records with 54.60 at the age of 16,” said Keon.

“If Lydia had continued to train from 16 to 24 years old, she could have easily broken 50 seconds, which could have won her an Olympic medal and she could have been Olympic champion for me.”

“In fact, PT Usha, Lydia’s greatest rival, won an Olympic bronze in the 400m hurdles,” he added.

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