At Sochi, Michael Christian Martinez was just warming up

By Tim David

Seventeen-year-old Michael Christian Martinez is the first Filipino — and only Southeast Asian – skater to compete at the Olympics recently held at Sochi, Russia.

Before Sochi, he was already making waves internationally. However, I was surprised that he did not skate at the Philippine Nationals prior to the games. Paranaque-born Martinez only skated at the 2012 National championships where he placed third behind Filipino American Christopher Caluza, three-time and reigning Philippine National champion, and New York-born international skater Maverick Eguia.

Michael has been turning heads at every competition, coming from a tropical country and despite belated professional training. He won gold at the 2012 Crystal Skate of Romania and bronze at the New Year’s Cup in Slovakia. Clearly, Martinez was Philippine Skating Union’s clear favorite to send to Sochi.

Michael started skating at the SM Southmall skating rink in the Philippines at the age of 8. It’s been said that he and his mother were out shopping when he saw skaters making their moves on the rink. He asked if he could try skating, and she readily said yes.

He began professional training in the United States only in 2010. He showed promise although he suffers occasional breathing difficulty caused by asthma.

“I literally grew up in the hospital as I was very sick,” Michael said in a profile prepared for the Sochi Games. “I couldn’t take up any sport. I tried outdoor sports when I was younger, but I easily got asthma attacks so I stopped. I had asthma maintenance medicine when I started skating, since the cold in the rink makes me sick too. But 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 landed his first Triple Axel jump at the Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid, and that seemed to solidify his reputation.

His persistence has paid off. He has suffered injuries to his knees, ankle and thigh over the years. Such injuries would require several months of healing and rehabilitation, but always he would return to the rink and get back into training.

As I watch his skating progress year after year, Michael’s style seems to resemble the free-spirited moves of Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu, the newly crowned Olympic Men’s Figure Skating champion.

In September 2013, the Nebelhorn qualifying competition in Germany put pressure on every nation to attain the needed score to compete at the Olympic Games. Michael, the reigning Philippine National bronze medalist, and Alisson Krystle Perticheto were the only skaters from the Philippines. Michael scored 61.55 in the short program and placed 11th, and scored 127.91 in his free skate, placing eighth. His total score was 189.46 and his final placement was 7th. Michael Christian Martinez made the cut. From that point on, all eyes were on him heading to Sochi.

Michael first caught the eye of the international community when he carried the Philippine flag as the lone participating athlete from the country.

On February 13, he was the fifth in a field of 30 men to conquer the ice. Skating to music from “Romeo & Juliet,” Michael soared into his Triple Axel and earned positive grade of executions from five judges. At the end of the dramatic men’s short program, Michael placed 19th and made the cut of top 24 to skate the long program.

The next day’s performance was more intense. Michael landed a Triple Axel-Double Toe Loop combination followed by a Triple Lutz-Double Toe Loop combination jump. The next five jumping passes he had trouble with, but he finished strong to music from “Malaguena.”

From those initial salvos, Michael became the “Darling of the Media,” stunning Olympic fans around the world who thought ‘how can someone from no-snow Philippines skate this good?’

I have a feeling Michael will be deluged with offers of product endorsements when he returns to the Philippines where a welcome parade awaits him.

Tim David is a figure skater from New Jersey. He won gold medals in the U.S. Adult National Figure Skating in 2005 and 2007, and bronzes in the same category in 2008 and 2009.

One Comment

  1. I saw one of his competition and I was awed by his performance. Having been watching skating since i came
    to America 25 years ago, I can compare his skating with those of American skaters. all he needs is being attuned to the music and more finesse like the skater Johnny Weir, Brian Boitano, Brian Orser and many more. If he can train with well-known coaches like Carrol, that will be a plus. Good luck and God bless.

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