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Freeman Cebu Sports

Dash to ash

WRECKORDER - FGS Gujilde - The Freeman

Last week we lost Lydia de Vega when she reached her final destination. While sooner or later, everyone else does, she arrived too soon. At 57, the sprint queen still had so much to live for, like finding the heiress to her greatness. Kristina Marie Knott may have eclipsed Lydia’s running records, but the Fil-Am is not yet anywhere near consistency and longevity of the country’s dear departed track heroine.

Lydia dashed to national prominence with a rare 200m-400m sprint double in the 1981 Southeast Asian Games in Manila. After winning the shorter distance in record time, the young, innocent lass from Meycauayan received a presidential handshake in the stands, captured into one of the most memorable images in regional games history.

Then Lydia ruled the century dash in the 1982 Asiad, the biggest continent’s Olympic equivalent. Four years later she defended her crown as Asia’s fastest woman, a feat unrepeated by any other Asian woman.

In the 1983 Asian athletics championships, she won another sprint double, this time a 100m-200m combination that she reprised in 1987, her stellar year, the same year she ran the 100m in 11.28s, her lifetime and regional best that stood for three decades at least. Although Lydia was reported to have ran an unofficial time of 11.22s during training, worth a medal in the earlier Olympiad.

Then she disappeared into the warm embrace of her family, but came back to some unwelcoming arms. In 1991, Lydia ran her most memorable race right on home tracks, not only because she raced against a vastly improved Malaysian rival, more so because she disproved some Filipino sports officials, one of which publicly doubted her ability to win another gold. Then a wife, a mother and older, Lydia rose to the occasion, and persecution, and ran even faster in her trademark vindicating delivery of her vindictive best when lowly, or slowly, regarded.

Officials officiate to bring out athletic best, but in a country of insensitivity, they obfuscate, even the glitter of gold. EJ Obiena is not a case of first impression, his is a case of repetition. In that dramatic comeback from retirement, Lydia not only ran to regain lost glory, but to prove motherhood does not make a woman wimpy. It instead gives her strength unknown to males, to bear a burden unbearable to men.

While Lydia did not qualify beyond any worlds or Olympic quarterfinal spotlight, she was spotless. Her personal best time may be meters away from the fastest time ever ran by a woman, but the Filipina speed marvel was organic and authentic. She never failed any test for banned substances.

Her body of evidence of a clear conscience is her own body – no bulging, synthetic muscles suspicious of drug use. She was naturally tall, toned and bronzed – attributes that once licensed her to catwalk, just as she skywalked to long jump gold in her golden year in 1987. She too acted in a movie about her story. But art did not imitate her, or her life. She herself was the art who sped like poetry in motion that sparked a beacon of emotions, of national warmth, pride and glory. She may have ashed to mortality, but for several times she dashed to athletic immortality.

LYDIA DE VEGA

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