Amidst all odds, nothing is stopping Filipino figure skater Michael Christian Martinez from making it big in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The 17-year-old is currently in Sochi, Russia, getting ready to show the world how Filipinos, despite living in a tropical country, can shine even on the ice.
He will be appearing for his first figure skating competition on Thursday, February 13, for the Men's Short Program.
This qualifying round will determine which top 24 skaters will advance to the Free Skate Program, which is the final round that will identify the gold, silver, and bronze medalists.
The men's short program will air live on TV5 on February 13, from 11:00 PM to 3:30 AM (PST), while the free skate program will be broadcast on Friday, February 14, from 11:00 PM to 3:30 AM.
WHO IS MICHAEL CHRISTIAN MARTINEZ? Born in Parañaque on November 4, 1996, Michael didn't even seem to be the sporty type.
At a very young age, he was diagnosed with a severe case of asthma, and practically grew up inside the hospital.
“I literally grew up in the hospital as I was very sick. I couldn’t take up any sport.
"I tried outdoor sports when I was younger, but I easily got asthma attacks so I stopped,” he says in an interview with Rappler.
He began to take interest in skating in 2005, when he saw a bunch of skaters practicing at an indoor mall rink.
What started out as a hobby for Michael quickly became a serious mission to take all that he's got into the Olympics.
“Year after year, my health keeps improving, so my mother fully supported me to continue skating.
"She said it’s better to spend the money on skating than in the hospital,” he, again, tells Rappler.
In 2010, his mother, Maria Teresa Martinez, took Michael to the U.S. to train under British figure skating coach John Nicks.
Since then, Michael has been spending half of his year abroad to train with Nicks and the Olympic figure skater Ilia Kulik, a Russian national.
He made his debut in the 2010-2011 International Skating Union (ISU) Junior Grand Prix, held in various locations, such as France, Romania, Austria, Czech Republic, and China.
While he didn't win any medals there, the experience became his stepping stone to land other international competitions.
He joined the 2012 Crystal Skate of Romania, where he won the gold medal—a first for the Philippines.
He also won sixth place at the 2012-2013 Junior Grand Prix in Croatia, and made his second appearance at the 2013 World Junior Championships, where he finished fifth place.
Michael also competed in the 2013 Junior Grand Prix Latvia where he finished fourth, and then placed seventh at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy, which qualified him to compete at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Today, he ranks fifth in the junior division of the ISU, and 24th across all categories.
THE ROAD TO SOCHI. In spite of the good amount of victories under his belt, Michael's road to Sochi hasn't exactly been smooth.
He sustained several injuries throughout his young career, including torn knee ligaments in 2012, and a fractured ankle that stopped him from playing for two months in 2013.
Also, there was the financial struggle that led his mother to mortgage their home in order to cover his travel expenses for the international tournaments.
This week, Mrs. Martinez's statements, published on a January 15 report by Simone Orendain of the Catholic News Service (catholicregister.org), turned controversial when she said that her son didn't get any support from the office of President Noynoy Aquino.
“I don’t even think anyone at the President’s office knows there’s a Filipino skating in the Olympics,” Mrs. Martinez told Orendain.
Philippine Sports Commission Chairman Ricardo R. Garcia, however, denied allegations that the government did not extend financial support to Michael.
In an interview with PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) yesterday, February 11, Chairman Garcia claimed that they never received the proper documents to proceed with the release of funding.
PRAYERS FOR MICHAEL. Regardless of the controversy, Filipinos are now being called upon to extend moral support for Michael, who, according to Orendain, only clings to God for help.
The teenage skater, who is a devout Catholic, considers the images of the child Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Holy Rosary as his lucky charms.
Together with his mother, and coaches John Nicks and Viktor Kudriavstev—a Russian choreographer who began coaching the skater in 2013—in Sochi, Michael is about to face the most critical game of his life yet.
Michael is only the third Filipino athlete to enter the Winter Olympics, since its birth in 1924. He is also the first Southeast Asian figure skater to qualify for the global games.
In victory or defeat, Michael stands a symbol of hope for the Filipino.