MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – It’s a dream come true for 17-year-old Michael Christian Martinez to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
He is the first Filipino at Southeast Asian to qualify in the figure skating competition of the Olympics, which is why he is both proud and excited when he he carried the Philippine flag at the Games’ opening ceremonies over the weekend.
In a Skype interview with ABS-CBN, Martinez marveled at the quality condition of the ice sheet in the venue.
He added that he is putting his full focus on his final practices since the judges are watching for the pre-judging phase.
"Sobrang saya. I feel like a champion. I'm so happy and proud na I'll be competing in the Olympics," he said.
"I think maganda po ang chances natin dito... 'yung ice po natin dito malambot po siya so pag tumalon po ako dito maganda ang spring sa talon ko," added Martinez.
Martinez is the youngest among the 30 contestants competing in men’s figure skating. He needs to finish among the Top 24 to advance to the finals.
"[Ini-improve ko] 'yung choreography at mga jumps ko... spins are okay na po kasi doon po ako nakilala. Sa talon ko na lang po, kailangan i-perfect ang technique," he said.
It wasn’t an easy road for Martinez to qualify for the Olympics. As a frail kid, he took up skating lessons at SM skating rinks.
When he showed promise, his mother threw her full support on his hobby, enabling him to win local and international competitions.
He was even featured by ABS-CBN’s "Sports Unlimited" when he was only 9. Back then, he already showed what he can do on the ice.
Since 2010, Martinez and his mom have been going back and forth to the US for the skater’s special training under international coaches John Nicks and Ilia Kulic.
They have been using their earnings from the family’s agri-business, but it wasn’t enough to finance the training, lodging and other expenses needed for international competitions.
Martinez got some financial backing from SM, the Metro Ice Skating Club, the Philippine Skating Union and some of his friends. The Philippine Olympic Committee also chipped in to help with Martinez’s training expenses.
"Nung May, nagbigay ang Shoemart ng P1 million. 'Yung Philippine Olympic Committee, P250,000, and P500,000 'yung sa [Philippine] Skating Federation," said Martinez's mom, Theresa.
A zumba club in the US even organized a fund-raising event to help Martinez.
Their sacrifices bore fruit when Martinez won two senior international competitions, including the 2012 Crystal Skate in Romania. He also placed seventh in the 2013 Nebelhorn Tournament in Germany, which earned him a qualification in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Since they needed added funding to prepare for the Winter Olympics, Mrs. Martinez was forced to mortgage their house in Muntinlupa.
"Kasi kailangan n'yang mag-train... eh mahal kasi ang training sa US. 'Yung isang coach nya charges a $150 an hour. His other coaches charge $130 an hour, 'yung isa charges $100. The ice time is about $96 per hour. He stays on the ice six hours a day," said Mrs. Martinez.
"If he's on the ice six hours a day, that's $96 per hour, so you're talking something like $500 to $600 a day."
They also flew to Russia last January for Martinez’s final preparations before the Olympics.
Aside from relying on hard work, Martinez turned to prayers for added strength and motivation.
"Sa lahat ng competitions po nagdadasal ako. Dito sana pinag-pray ko lang po na sa Kanya muna ang mga worries ko, sa Kanya muna ang mga kaba ko. Ipine-pray ko na sana maging consistent ako," he said.
The preliminary competitions for the men’s figure skating will begin on Thursday.