P. T. Usha’s greatest rival and Philippines sprint icon, Lydia de Vega loses battle to cancer

Former Asian sprint queen Lydia de Vega loses four-year battle with cancer

Lydia was to the Philippines what Usha was to India and fans thronged to see the girl who had beaten the great Usha for the Asia’s fastest athlete title a few times. (File Photo)

Lydia was to the Philippines what Usha was to India and fans thronged to see the girl who had beaten the great Usha for the Asia’s fastest athlete title a few times. (File Photo) | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Former Asian sprint queen Lydia de Vega loses four-year battle with cancer

When P.T. Usha was at her peak in the eighties, nobody in Asia could touch her in the 200, 400m or the 400m hurdles. But there was one girl, Lydia de Vega of the Philippines, who could trouble Asia’s golden girl frequently in the 100m.

“Those days, I did not have any competition in any event except the 100m. Lydia always used to give me a tough fight in the 100m. She was my greatest rival,” said Usha in a chat with Sportstar on Thursday.

Off track, we were good friends. At the 1986 Asian Games, her father gave me a long chain of silver coins. I still have that.

—  P. T. Usha on Lydia de Vega

Lydia, the sprinter with movie star looks who gave Asian athletics some of its greatest moments with her sparkling rivalry with Usha, passed away in Manila on Wednesday at age 57 after a four-year battle with breast cancer.

“I got the message about Lydia’s death last night. I was very sad and upset because she was a good friend and a great rival,” said Usha now a Rajya Sabha MP.

Usha has run nearly 10 finals against Lydia at the Asian Games and Asian Championships and had lost the Asiad 100m final twice, in New Delhi 1982 and Seoul 1986, to the Filipino. At the Asian Championships 100m, Usha had beaten Lydia in Jakarta 1985 and lost to her in Singapore 1987.

“My most memorable races against Lydia were in the 1986 Asian Games. After she beat me in the 100m, I came from behind and beat her in the 200m with a nice dip at the finish,” said Usha.

“She was a very glamorous girl, had a beautiful physique and nicely-toned muscles. She came for training and for races wearing make-up and a had a lot of fans. Everybody in our family liked her. In fact my uncle T.V. Narayanan, who brought me to sport, named his daughter who was born around that time as Lydia.”

Filipino athlete actress Lydia De Vega raises her hand in triumph after winning the Asiad ‘82 women’s 100 metre race.  On the far right (No.488) is P.T. Usha of India, who finished second to add to India’s silver medal tally at the Nineth Asian Games held in New Delhi on November 27, 1982.

Filipino athlete actress Lydia De Vega raises her hand in triumph after winning the Asiad ‘82 women’s 100 metre race. On the far right (No.488) is P.T. Usha of India, who finished second to add to India’s silver medal tally at the Nineth Asian Games held in New Delhi on November 27, 1982. | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Lydia was to the Philippines what Usha was to India and fans thronged to see the girl who had beaten the great Usha for the Asia’s fastest athlete title a few times.

“Her attitude and competitive spirit were great. Those were wonderful days...I used win a lot of golds but the 100m was always tough, so there was a lot written about our rivalry,” said Usha.

“That lasted for four or five years, I don’t see such long rivalries now.”

Lydia was coached by her father Francisco de Vega, a police officer, who wanted to know Usha’s winning secret.

“At the 1985 Jakarta Asians, her father had doubts whether I was on dope and he wanted me to be tested after every race. I was tested four times in Jakarta, after winning the 100, 200, 400 and 400m hurdles. I was winning gold in every race, so naturally they’d have doubts,” said Usha.

“But off track, we were good friends. At the 1986 Asian Games, her father gave me a long chain of silver coins. I still have that.”

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