MANILA, February 14, 2014 (AFP) – Philippine Olympic figure skater Michael Christian Martinez was hailed as a hero on Friday even as a senior sports official denied accusations that the government had failed to support him.
The 17-year-old, the lone representative of the tropical country at the Sochi Games, made history after he qualified Thursday from the men’s short program for the free skate on Friday, despite numerous disadvantages, including being forced to learn his craft on a skating rink in a shopping mall.
Local news reports suggested his family had struggled to pay for his training and that the government did not provide any support.
But Ricardo Garcia, chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission, said Martinez had received adequate financial support from the government and private donors.
“We are very happy with his performance. For a guy who learned how to skate in the Philippines, to make it to the finals… it is really amazing,” Garcia told AFP.
“This is a very big issue for us. We have an athlete who is an Olympian who made it to the final rounds,” he added.
Some of the country’s wealthiest tycoons were sponsoring Martinez and the national skating association never asked for additional funds for him, Garcia said.
The Philippine Olympic Committee asked the government for $7,200 to cover some of Martinez’s additional expenses but this money was released in December, he added.
Speaking after his performance at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Friday, Martinez was elated with his performance: “The first half was pretty good, but halfway though the program I got out of breath, but I did my best all the way through. This is the first time I landed the triple axel in the second half of the program.”
He is already looking towards the next Winter Games in South Korea.
“If I can get more support financially, I’m thinking about the next Olympics and getting a medal there,” he added.
Users of social media were agog over Martinez’s success in a sport so alien to his country.
Popular director Jose Javier Reyes wrote in a message to Martinez on Twitter: “The medal is immaterial. In the hearts of your countrymen, your feat is more than an Olympic Gold. You INSPIRE!”
“Was teary eyed when I saw #MichaelChristianMartinez wave his jacket with PHILIPPINES printed on it. He put his heart&soul in his performance,” another tweet said.
Garcia said the youngster had “the attitude of a winner” and would use his time in Sochi “as a stepping stone to gain more experience for the next Olympics”.
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