POSTED: 7:45 p.m. HST, Feb 14, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 5:03 a.m. HST, Feb 15, 2014
SOCHI, Russia » Michael Christian Martinez did not win a medal at the men's singles competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace. His 19th-place finish was marked by trips and tossups.
But after stepping off the ice, Martinez was content, even as he realized his score would not vault him to the podium.
"I did my very best," he said.
Martinez, 17, is the first Olympic figure skater from the Philippines and the first Winter Olympian for the country since it sent an Alpine skier to the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France. Since the formation of its Olympic committee in 1911, the country has never won a gold medal at the Winter Games. At the opening ceremony, Martinez was the lone athlete and flag-bearer.
As his score was read Friday night, Martinez sat in the kiss-and-cry area smiling while waving a white jacket with "Philippines" printed on it.
A newcomer on the international skating circuit, Martinez has thrived on social media, especially among Filipinos, with more than 58,000 likes on his Facebook page. He is also a regular Twitter user.
"There's a lot of support," he said. "There's a lot of prayers, people supporting me, comments, and they support me from the beginning, and they believed in me for so long."
Born in Paranaque City, Martinez said he got his unlikely start in skating when he was 9 and walked with his mother past a shopping mall that had a skating rink.
Although he tried other sports, he found figure skating was the only one that agreed with his asthma. As he improved, he was approached about training in the United States.
He said it was there that he realized, by meeting skaters like American Jeremy Abbott, how stiff the international competition was.
"All these things I had never seen before were there," he said.
Since then, he has trained with Olympic gold medalist Ilila Kulik and John Nicks, whose pupils have included Sasha Cohen and Ashley Wagner.
He completed high school in April.
"I miss a lot of school stuff," Martinez said. "But it is worth it because I am here."
Martinez now trains in California, where he lives with a Filipino friend.
"It was really different," he said of his life in the United States. He spent a month in Moscow training for the competition this week.
Martinez finished fifth at the 2013 World Junior Championships with a personal best score, 191.64 points.
In Sochi, Martinez skated his short program to "Romeo and Juliet" by Arthur Fiedler and his free skate to "Malagueña" by Ernesto Lecuona.
He said he did not sleep much the night before the free skate, and after scoring a 64.81 in the short program Thursday night, he knew he was a long shot for a medal. But he still may have been one of the happiest men in the Olympic Park.
Martinez was skittish about discussing the financial struggles his family faced in helping him train for a costly sport, but he said he had secured financing through his government and Filipinos to pursue skating.
"For me, God gave me a chance, and a lot of people gave me a chance so that I made it here," he said. "It's a good opportunity."
As one of the younger men in the singles competition in Sochi, Martinez is determined to compete at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"I see myself there," he said. "For sure I will be there."
Mary Pilon, New York Times