Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Remembering the man behind the legend

Not a few Filipino runners, and perhaps even non-runners, know Lydia de Vega-Mercado.

Often pictured with her pony tailed hair, the long-legged, tanned and charming lass from Meycauyan, Bulacan reigned in the 80's not only as the country's top runner. She established herself as Asia's sprint queen by winning back-to-back 100-meter dash gold during the 1982 (New Delhi) and the 1986 (Seoul) Asian Games, the first woman to ever do so.

Diay, as she was fondly called, also dominated the century dash at the Southeast Asian Games, winning gold in 1987, 1991 and 1993. She also twice won both the 100 and 200 meter golds in the Asian Athletics Championships -1983 and 1987- and carried the country's colors in the 1984 (Los Angeles) and 1988 (Seoul) Olympics. 

Not as famous, except maybe among hardcore Filipino running enthusiasts and sportswriters, but undoubtedly very much part of the legend that is Lydia de Vega is her coach who trained her to be fast and helped her succeed as an athlete - her father Francisco de Vega, better known as "Tatang.”

A former policeman before he took to coaching, Tatang guided Lydia through training and to her victories in a tight-handed way that didn't sit well with some sectors but proved effective and made Lydia perform better. 

A well-remembered incident is Tatang's conflict with then Gintong Alay head Michael Keon who wanted Lydia to run the 400 instead of the 100-meter event at the  5th Asian Athletic Championships in Kuwait in 1983, to which the old de Vega did not agree. Keon refused to grant Tatang accreditation as coach prompting Lydia, one of the favorites in the sprints, to withdraw from the competition. Then First Lady Imelda Marcos had to intervene, allowing Tatang to go to Kuwait as Lydia's coach. Lydia did compete, ending up victorious in both the 100m and 200m and doing a repeat of her conquest of her rival, India's superstar athlete, P.T. Usha in the 200 meters.

Francisco “Tatang” de Vega passed away last December 26 due to lingering illness.
He was 84. He was laid to rest at the Pandayan Memorial Park in Meycauayan January 2, accompanied by "hundreds that joined the three-kilometer long funeral procession."

In remembering Tatang, allow me to share this story from Eddie Alinea posted at PhilBoxing.com

De Vega looks back at Tatang's teachings
By Eddie Alinea
Former Asian Sprint Lydia de Vega-Mercado refused to see her father Francisco “Tatang” de Vega’s remains in the entire week of her former coach’s wake at the family residence in Barangay Calvario in Meycauayan City. 
Even inside the chapel where a mass was held Sunday prior to Tatang’s interment, she kept her distance from the casket although she remained sobbing loudly throughout. 
“I might not be able to hold on to myself,” Diay told this writer by way of explaining her decision not to even get near to the casket. “Baka ako himatayin.” 
Of all Tatang’s six siblings with wife Aleng Mary Diay happened to be the closest to him keeping her daughter company daily from the time the two of them decided that the pretty, long-limbed girl of l2 would go into track and field until the time she retired more than a decade and-a-half later. 
“Ang tagal naming nagsama halos araw-araw mula noong magsimula akong tumakbo. Kahit noong mag-aral ako sa Amerika at mag-training sa Mt. Sac (Mt. San Antonio College of Los Angeles) magkasama pa rin kami at coach ko pa rin siya doon,” she said. 
Before Tatang was finally laid to rest to give members of his family the last chance to glance at him, Diay approach the coffin and what she feared happened – she broke down even as she shouted at the top of her voice” Tatay, hindi kita talaga malapitan at matingnan dahil baka di ko makayanan ang sarili ko.” 
“Pero ngayon titingnan na kita kasi hindi na kita makikita kahit kailan. Ito na ang ang kahulihulihang pagkakataon na makikita ka,” she blurted out, adding, “Salamat sa lahat ng nagawa mo sa akin. Kung hindi sa ‘yo, hindi ko mararating ang kinalalagyan ko ngayon!” 
“Salamat din at hanggang sa kahulihulihang sandali ng iyong buhay ay hindi mo ako nakalimutan. Itinaon mo pang birthday ko nang iwan mo kami,” she exclaimed in reference to the day Tatang passed away last Dec. 26 which happened to be Diay’s 46th birth anniversary. 
Incidentally, too, Tatang perished while Diay was still in Singapore where she currently works since 2005 after helping the country win the overall championship in the Southeast Asian Games as a consultant in the Philippine Sports Commission. 
Her statements drew tears from almost everybody inside the Pandayan Memorial Park of the hundreds that joined the three-kilometer long funeral procession from the Calvario Barangay Chapel where the mass was celebrated earlier. 
So long was the funeral procession that the hearse carrying Tatang’s casket was already entering the memorial park located at Barangay Pandayan but the tail end was still at the McArthur Highway. 
Inside the chapel, Diay thanked all those that condoled with her and her family, including President Nonoy, who sent a signed personal message of sympathy. 
At her turn to speak at the necrological service, Diay recalled the sacrifices Tatang and she had undergone in quest for fame and glory for the country, the hardship and agony she had on the way to crowning herself Asia’s Spring Queen of the 80s and 90s.  
How she endured and followed to the letter Tatang’s “no pains no gains” and “no guts, no glory” philosophy kind of training that had her depriving of hers` 
She said that if there’s going to be an award given to the “Best Track and Field Coach” the Philippines ever produced, she believes that should go to Tatang. 
“Despite Tatang’s lack of formal education in coaching, he led me to bringing home no less than 40 gold medals racing against the best the world of track and field can offer, including a pair in the Asian Games na me becoming the first woman athlete to win back-to-back the 100 meters gold. 
“Count my winnings in the local competitions and the number of gold medal I was able to bring home would be no less than 50,” she said. “Sinong local coach ang nakagawa ng ganun?” 
“I know that the orthodox way of Tatang in guiding my running career for me and the country earned will not be forgotten in a long while,” she said. 
“As a product of the old school teachings, kung ano ang ipinamulat ng kanyang mga magulang sa kanya ay iyon din ang ipinamulat niya sa amin, lalo na sa akin sa pagiging atleta ko, she commented. “Walang science na makukuha lamang sa eskuwela, walang modern technology. Tatang played everything by ear. 
“Ang pagtitiwala sa sarili para magawa ang lahat ng nais gawin ang kanyang ginamit. Ito rin po ang prinsipyong itinananim nya sa isip ng aking mga kapatid na ngayon ay gabay namin sa aming pamumuhay,” Diay continued.

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