By DAVID CASUCO
LOS ANGELES (Mabuhay) -– At the kiss-and-cry area of the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, young Filipino figure skater Michael Christian Martinez did his final spin – capping his auspicious Winter Olympic debut by telling the whole world that winter-less Philippines is where he came from.
The crowd at skating arena, earlier captivated by his not-so-perfect but nonetheless elegant freeskate, responded with a mild roar. A few minutes later, the international media were making a beeline to interview the Filipino athlete.
Martinez, who came to the Olympics with a bag of distractions and a shoestring budget, got more than what he bargained for. He set his goal to make the freeskate, he placed 19th; he dreamed to be in the same stage with figure skating stars, he became one of them; he wanted to get the attention of potential sponsors for the next four years, he got the attention of the whole world.
The youngest in the field of 30 men’s qualifiers, Martinez has accomplished a great part of his goal to enter the medal round in this, the grandest stage of athletic competition where perfection and excellence are norms. The other half of that dream is compete and win a medal in his next important stop: the 1218 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Widely regarded in the skating world as “one of the next figure skating stars,” Martinez has proved to all and sundry that he has what it takes to become an elite skater that sports pundits think he will be.
A 19th place finish and a 29th world ranking may look like light years away from the Olympic medal podium, but Martinez – his confidence boosted by his Sochi experience – looks forward to the next Olympics where he thinks he could be a serious medal contender.
“My next goal is to train and work hard for the Seoul Winter Games and get a medal there,” Martinez told the Philippine News. “Hopefully, the government and private sector are now convinced that I am worthy of their support.”
Unlike athletes from rich countries who do not need government assistance, Martinez is a homegrown talent from a tropical country best known for mega-disasters, mega-scammers, and a government that rarely responds to felt needs. So then, when Martinez and his mom sought counsel from the Office of the President that oversees the Philippine Sports Commission, the email did not see daylight. It got lost in the bureaucratic maze and, in the words of a Palace spokesperson, “probably ended up in the spam folder.”
Largely ignored by sports organizations and the media back home, the Philippine News, examiner.com, Balita Media, and Steve Angeles of ABS-CBN Los Angeles took the lead, writing about the constant struggles and sporadic triumphs of Martinez in his desire to stay on track on the road to Sochi.
Filipino netizens got wind of the stories and threw their support behind the young Martinez even as they launched disparaging criticisms against the snub by the sports organizations of the Philippine government. In Carson, zumba guru Nonie Belarmino spearheaded a regular fund drive for Martinez. The PWU group headed by Virgie Vibas and Lydia V. Solis also recognized the need of Martinez and his mom.
And then the seemingly improbable happened. With sheer talent and an inadequate training, Martinez took gold in his second senior competition at the Crystal Skate of Romania in early 2012. The victory was Martinez’s first senior international title and the first for the Philippines.
Now, the equation started to shift in Martinez favor. The cynics back home suddenly became believers. And a groundswell of support started to take form. A million pesos from SM-PSU and donations here and there somehow made Martinez ready to skate for the Olympic qualifier in Nebelhorn, Germany. He took the third of the six Olympic tickets at stake.
And to those who think the young athlete doesn’t deserve taxpayers support, you have to consider: Martinez is no pedestrian athlete. He is a phenom. He developed amazing skills on ice even before any coach could guide him there. He was winning competitions on levels that he was not expected to excel, and the government has an agency that takes care of exceptional talents who bring pride and glory to the Philippines.
His stint in this, the Sochi Games, was a valuable yardstick to what Martinez could be in the next Olympics. More significantly, he compellingly showed to the world – particularly to the naysayers back home – that his gold medal performance at the 2012 Crystal Skate in Romania was no fluke. And his goal of being in the Elite Five figure skaters can be achieved with a solid training program behind him.
Meanwhile, like the real life-inspired movie “Cool Runnings” where the Jamaican bobsled team had to raise funds doing arm-wrestling, singing on the street, and holding a kissing booth, Martinez and his local community support in Carson, California continue to raise additional training funds dancing the zumba. (MNS)
(David Casuco writes sports and spirituality for examiner.com and Mabuhay News Service. He obtained his journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas and took expanded theological studies at the Angelus Bible Institute in Los Angeles.)