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Filipino figure skater is happy just being in Sochi

By New York Times

LAST UPDATED: 05:03 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

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entrkn wrote:
I look forward to seeing you in Korea, Michael.
on February 14,2014 | 10:34PM
hanalei395 wrote:
With a population of over 106 million, the Philippines sent only 11 "athletes" to the 2012 Summer Olympics. It would have been less, but countries are required to include track and field participants and swimmers. Of course, zero medals earned. Not exactly an athletic country.
on February 15,2014 | 04:07AM
niceynicey wrote:
So is there a point here? In a country that doesn't even experience cold winters, I think this is an example of great personal tenacity. The Philippines is not a wealthy country with a government or a people that have the resources to fund the expensive training that is required in order to become an Olympic caliber athlete. From your comment, it sounds like you're saying he shouldn't even bother. The reason why countries like the USA and others succeed in the Olympics is because no one has ever said anything like that to them. I say, Go for it, Michael! You gotta start somewhere!
on February 15,2014 | 05:02AM
hanalei395 wrote:
I was talking about the Summer Olympics.
on February 15,2014 | 05:16AM
niceynicey wrote:
My comment holds true for Summer Olympics.
on February 15,2014 | 05:31AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Not really. Your comment was about Michael.
on February 15,2014 | 06:09AM
niceynicey wrote:
My comment really is in reference to your comment about the Philippines not being an "athletic country". Every country has athletic people. To reach Olympic caliber means a lot of time and $$$$$ needs to be invested. Something countries like the Philippines don't have. Whether it is summer or winter Olympics is irrelevant.
on February 15,2014 | 06:45AM
bumbye wrote:
Yes, they're too busy trying to make ends meet for something as frivolous as sports, let alone the Olympics. Kudos to Michael for working so hard and following his dream.
on February 15,2014 | 08:57AM
RetiredWorking wrote:
hanalei, what is your point? Small countries shouldn't even try, is that it? You're a downer. Be happy for all Olympic athletes who participate, not just the winners. Did you know that years ago, a Punahou swimmer represented the Philipines in the Olympic tryouts? What an honor for her!
on February 15,2014 | 11:21AM
RetiredWorking wrote:
On to the 2008 Olympics Punahou's Christel Simms will represent the Philippines in Beijing
on February 15,2014 | 12:36PM
hanalei395 wrote:
Out of a population of over 106 million, no swimmers of their own? And there were other athletes from here who represented the Philippines in track and field, in another Summer Olympics. ... And your "Small countries shouldn't even try, is that it?" .....doesn't make any sense. The Philippines is NOT a "small country". Again, it has a population of over 106 million.
on February 15,2014 | 05:03PM
RetiredWorking wrote:
hanalei, your logic is hard to follow. What are you complaining about? That the Philipines has no swimmers? Are you sure about that? In the season of Winter Olympics, why are you fixated on The Philipines Summer Olympic representation? India has more than 10 times the population of the Philipines. Do they represent well proportionately in the Olympics? Canada is a small country population-wise with 35 million people, but they've brought home huge amounts of Olympic medals throughout the years.So do small countries like South Korea.It's not the size of the country. It's the involvement of how important the Olympics mean to its government and its people, and the $$ apportioned to its Olympic cause.
on February 15,2014 | 06:32PM
hanalei395 wrote:
"That the Philippines has no swimmers? Are you sure about that?" ......YOU, YOURSELF, brought that up. That a Punahou swimmer represented the Philippines. ......"What an HONOR for her!".
on February 15,2014 | 07:06PM
localguy wrote:
Another clear example of HECO's clueless CEO's failure to plan ahead. Realizing HECO was way behind the power curve, HECO has to kow tow to state regulators, asking for special favors so it can spend money for more PV panels/solar energy before the deadline. The same ones it has worked to slow down for home owners, tired of them "stealing from their CEO's yearly bonus." Naturally no one's rate will ever go down. HECO will spin the cost must be fully repaid first, perhaps a tiny rate reduction in the next decade, depending on conditions. Yes, HECO at its best, engineless, rudderless, captainless ship adrift in the ocean.
on February 15,2014 | 06:28AM
localguy wrote:
My bad. Copy and paste not cleared. What I meant to say is what a great success story. Overcoming such odds to make it to the Olympics, a dream come true for Michael, he is an Olympian. He follows in the steps of new Filipino lead singer for Journey, Arnel Pineda, and the hit song, "Don't Stop Believing." Way to go Michael and all the best for you to try again in the 2018 winter Olympic games in South Korea.
on February 15,2014 | 06:32AM