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Editorial

Historic

/ 11:39 PM February 15, 2014

It’s been said before and we’ll say it again: The Philippines’ Michael Christian Martinez made history just by hitting the ice at the Sochi Winter Games, whether or not he qualified for the final round of the men’s figure skating competition. But qualify he did, ultimately finishing 19th in a field of 24 and leaving the distinct impression that he is a serious contender to watch on the Olympics stage in the future.

The 17-year-old Martinez, the youngest skater and the first Filipino and Southeast Asian in the competition, gave it all he’s got. In the short program of 30 participants on Thursday night he performed to Arthur Fiedler’s love theme from “Romeo and Juliet,” hitting a triple axel and striking a cantilever spread to cheers from the audience. He scored 64.81 and was 19th among those who qualified for the finals.

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On Friday night he performed the free skate to Ernesto Lecuona’s “Malagueña,” scoring a cumulative score of 184.25 and holding the lead among the first six skaters. The commentator described his performance as “fantastic.”

It was clear to TV viewers that Martinez had a friendly audience, vigorously applauding his flawless jumps and even an unfortunate spill from which he gracefully recovered.

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At home his compatriots were thrilled by his presence in Sochi, and flooded social media with cheers and praise that, he later said in a phone interview, warmed his heart and boosted his determination to make good.

But also heartwarming was the sight of the young Olympian waving a jacket with “Philippines” on it after his performances. The message was that he’s come a long way to wintry Russia and it is his country that he is wearing on his figurative sleeve. Indeed, the world media were charmed not only by Martinez’s skill and potential but also his back story. The then 8-year-old Martinez discovered the wonders of figure skating in the SM Southmall skating rink. He proved a natural and in time was dividing his training between California and Manila.

He went on to emerge fifth overall in the World Junior Championships in Milan and 16th in the Four Continents Championships in Osaka last year. Along the way, he overcame asthma, a fractured ankle, torn knee ligaments and a cut thigh—a warrior as much as a skater—to achieve a life’s dream of qualifying for Sochi in September after finishing a rousing 7th at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany.

Martinez’s performance in the Winter Olympics has captured the imagination of his country and also shed a harsh light on state assistance for athletes, including those engaged in non-mainstream sports like figure skating. It is unclear whether or not he received funds from the Philippine Sports Commission. What is known so far is that his family has been funding his training and competition with the help of Hans Sy of the SM Group acting as his “godfather” and defraying P1.5 million of his expenses, and donors adding P500,000 through the Philippine Skating Union.

PSC executive director Guillermo Iroy Jr. has been quoted as saying that the commission approved financial assistance to the Philippine Olympic Committee in the amount of $7,200 so Martinez could participate in the Sochi Winter Games. And it’s said that training costs amount to at least P75,000 a month.

Martinez made history in Sochi, but the important issue now is whether the state can now back him in any meaningful way. His case once more illustrates the continuing inability of the government sports program to scout for potential among the youth and the lack of funding for athletic training and development. A virtual unknown in his country until the weeks before the Sochi Winter Games, Martinez will doubtless be in for much fanfare when he comes home. And the hand-wringing will surely intensify.

In this basketball-crazy country, there has to be room for someone like Martinez, who has the imagination to believe that a Filipino can make good in a winter sport. He’s a cool example of perseverance and grace. He makes us proud. Imagine, with proper training, what heights he will conquer in the future.

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TAGS: Editorial, Figure skating, Michael Christian Martinez, Michael Martinez, opinion, Russia, Sochi, sports, Winter Olympics
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