By Chiara Mapa/The Philippine Star – The Philippines will be sending a representative to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi City, Russia next month.
Michael Christian Martinez, 17, is the country’s first-ever figure skater to qualify for the Olympics.
The journey of Martinez to the Olympic games started in 2005 when he discovered skating as a sport at the SM Southmall Skating Rink in Las Piñas City.
“I saw people doing spins and jumps and I got really impressed because it was different and looked difficult! I enjoy doing challenging things like puzzles, so I went for it. At first, I fell then got up and skated again, and then it just kept getting easier and easier,” Martinez told The STAR while he was preparing for the Olympics at the Novogorsk Training Center in Russia.
After three years of recreational skating, Martinez decided to shift to competitive skating.
In 2008, Martinez and his mother flew to Colorado Springs in the US for a one-month training.
“When I got there, I saw a totally different level of training and skating. All around me were national champions, world champions and Olympic skaters,” he recalled.
But instead of being intimidated by competitive skaters training with him, Martinez began to dream bigger dreams.
“I didn’t really expect that I would make it to the Olympics,” he said. “But while at Colorado Springs, I saw that I was actually capable of doing the jumps and spins and was successfully learning the right techniques, so I thought, maybe I can make it to the Worlds…maybe even to the Olympics.”
Since then, Martinez has joined various competitions, slowly making his name known in the skating world.
He was the undefeated champion at the Asian Junior Figure Skating Challenge from 2008 to 2011, gold medalist at the 2012 Crystal Skate (senior level) in Romania, and bronze medalist at the 2013 Junior Gran Prix in Riga, Estonia.
He was also the lone qualifier from Southeast Asia at the 1st Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012.
Last September, he finished seventh at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final qualifying event for the 2014 Winter Games.
At first his mother, Maria Teresa, could not believe that her son would make it to the Olympics.
“When he told me that he wanted to go for the Olympics, I told him it was not possible. The other skaters who have already been preparing for years were way ahead of Michael. He started serious training in the US only in 2010 – just for two months a year – only to return to the Philippines with just a video for the Filipino coaches to follow,” recalled his mother.
But despite the difficulties, lack of funds for training and the urgency to catch up with the competitors, Martinez decided to go for the challenge and his family has supported him all the way.
Martinez has worked with various coaches, including iconic British coach John Nicks who has prepared skaters for the past 11 Winter Games.
In 2011, he started to work with Ilia Kulik, the 1998 Olympic Figure Skating Champion. Kulik used an entirely different technique; he erased everything that Martinez had learned and began rebuilding the athlete from the basics.
“It was tough on his body, but worth it,” recalled Maria Teresa.
For the Sochi Olympics, Martinez will be mentored by another veteran Olympic trainer, 76-year-old USSR and Russian coach Victor Kudraytsev, who was also Kulik’s trainer.
A mother’s commitment
Amidst all the professional training he has been receiving, Martinez attributes his success to his mother.
“I am really happy I made it to the Olympics. I feel that all the hard work paid off, that it is worth all the sacrifices and efforts of my mother,” he said.
He recounted that during an international competition in Hong Kong, he lost by a point due to an error of ignorance on the part of his coach.
“From that moment, my mother was determined to help me. To oversee my training herself, she began seriously studying about figure skating – reading books, reading every possible source, searching from the Internet, buying all things needed,” he said.
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