Athletics

The girl with movie star looks who was Usha’s greatest rival

Glamorous champion: Lydia raises her hand in triumph after beating Usha, right, to the second spot in the 1982 Asian Games 100m final.

Glamorous champion: Lydia raises her hand in triumph after beating Usha, right, to the second spot in the 1982 Asian Games 100m final. | Photo Credit: File photo

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 The Hindu on Thursday.

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.

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

Loved by the family

“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 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.”

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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Printable version | Aug 12, 2022 3:12:52 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/athletics/the-girl-with-movie-star-looks-who-was-ushas-greatest-rival/article65758774.ece