GOV’T APATHY SCORED
Will Michael Christian Martinez
deliver PH’s first Olympic gold?
By DAVID CASUCO
HACIENDA HEIGHTS, CA (Oct. 14) – In the beginning was a quest, and the quest was an Olympic gold for the Philippines, and the answer to that quest is here: sixteen-year old Michael Christian Martinez.
In less than four months, Martinez, dubbed in the skating world as a “future star,” will showcase the portrait of a Filipino athlete as an ice skater in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 7-23, 2014 – in the grandest of all sporting arenas – the Olympics, where the established norms are excellence and perfection.
The Sochi stint will be the decisive yardstick on what Martinez could be in the next Olympics – four years later – when the Filipino phenom will be a seasoned 20-year old figure skater.
The question everybody is asking, “Will the kid from Muntinlupa City be able to contend with the great challenge? Does he have enough skills in his arsenal to perform at par with skaters from traditional skating powerhouse countries from Europe and North America?
The correct answer to that is yes, certainly, he can win an Olympic gold in 2018. Given all the logistical support that he needs for coaching and training expenses, Michael is the missing link in the Philippines quest for an Olympic gold. In fact, even with just sporadic training sessions and inadequate preparations, Martinez’s flashes of brilliance are just remarkable as they are amazing.
Even when preparation is wanting, Michael still finds a way to shine. At the Youth Winter Olympics in January last year, the Filipino teen created quite a stir when he lined himself up for a medal finish. He was running third after the short program, outperforming skaters from traditional skating powerhouse countries. But his lack of training took a toll on the young Martinez in the free skate. He got bumped off from the medal stand.
Martinez, who is currently ranked 24th in the world, has booked a stint in Sochi, a trailblazing feat as he is the first Filipino figure skater to qualify for the Olympics. He is not expected to figure out prominently in this – his first Olympics competition, and also on account of his being the youngest among the competitors in his event.
“Somewhere in 19th to 22nd places,” says Teresa, Martinez’s mom who acts as the de facto coach whenever there is no money for a travelling coach. “But he is definitely one of the rising stars in figure skating. People in the sport believe in the next few years Michael will blossom into a real world-beater.”
Essentially, Martinez is still a junior skater, but he is competing, even winning, in the men’s tour. A skater can compete in both junior and senior divisions until age 19. Meaning, Martinez, who will turn 17 on Nov. 4, can go on competing in the junior division for three years more or permanently stay a senior skater. In the juniors division, Martinez is ranked 5th in the world. During the Nebelhorn trophy skateoff where Martinez secured the Olympic slot, the Filipino teen was the youngest competitor.
Now, let’s check on Martinez’s bucket list – Talent: phenomenal; mental toughness: almost there; jumps: very good; spins: excellent; grace and balance: awe-inspiring; prayers and moral support from Filipino netizens: awesome; preparation and training: not enough due to government apathy and lack of sponsors from the private sectors.
That is, more or less, how our sports hero stands right now.
In an email sent to this writer, Martinez’s mother, Teresa, who had been acting as de facto coach to his son, deplores the apathy and the lack of support from the government and the private sector: “I hope the Philippine government will give financial assistance to Michael. When he completed in the 2012 Youth Winter Olympics in January, we spent all our money for his (Michael’s) training to qualify and eventually to compete in the first ever Youth Winter Olympics.”
Martinez’s coach Ilia Kulik charge $600/day on competitions + airfare + hotel. “The schedules with the former Olympic champion Kulik has not worked conveniently in the past that’s why we have not brought him yet to competitions. So, Michael had to avail of the services of other travel coaches, or often times only me, as we are trying to save money too. His other regular coach, John Nicks has retired from travelling, although he still teaches in Aliso Viejo and still trains Michael,” said Teresa.
In other important competitions, Martinez sometimes had to rely on a force greater than human when faced adversity during competitions, like when he snared gold in his first senior division stint at the 13th Crystal Skate held November last year in Brasov, Romania.
Operating on a shoestring budget with the help of generous Filipino-Americans in Los Angeles, Martinez – with his mom coaching – went to see action in an ISU-sanctioned figure skating event in Romania.
“I didn’t have a coach to boost me up, so I was really nervous. My mom, who was acting as my coach, noticed that I was not myself.”
“I thought you prayed,” charges his mother.
“Yes mother, I did. I asked the Lord to help me with my jumps.”
He prayed, he found a zone and nailed all seven required jumps; he won. Mother and son gave glory to God. You can just imagine a well-trained Martinez competing with God on his side. Priceless, peerless!
The Romania victory was so huge to ignore. It was an event dominated by veterans and an ex-Olympian. The print, broadcast, and social media picked up the story of Martinez’s victory and it reverberated all the way to Manila. In March this year, the Philippine Sportswriters Association honored Martinez for his trailblazing effort. Two months later, Martinez received one million pesos from SM-PSU for his training in his journey to the Olympics. Confident and well-trained, Martinez qualified in Nebelhorn, Germany almost effortlessly.
And just a few days back, Martinez proved to all and sundry that given correct and proper training, he can compete with the best figure stakers in the world. He won the bronze at a junior grand prix event in Tallinn, Estonia. Only 2.44 points separated him and the Russian silver medalist.
Based on his last week's results, Martinez’s official international score is 198.82 points. So far, that’s his highest score in any International Skating Union (ISU)-sanctioned skating event. However, in August this year, Martinez did near-flawless performance in both short program and free skate. For that, he was given a 210++ score. He did it in Anaheim, California (http://www.isuresults.com/bios/isufs00012802.htm). That, however, was not under the ISU.
In Estonia last week, Martinez, dancing to “Romeo and Juliet,” a new program for this season, fell on his first triple axel when he made a wrong entry going to the jump. In skating lingo, an axel is a jump where a skater takes three and a half spins in mid-air. He recovered splendidly in the free skate, finishing second-best, to secure the bronze medal. Here, the kid displayed a mental toughness rarely seen in skaters his age. In the past couple of years, Martinez usually locks up the short program but gets lower scores in the free skate. One thing is certain, the kid is well on his way to skating glory.
Now, the SM training money used up, Martinez is again faced with an old dilemma: What will happen now? Where will the money come from?
The angst and frustration of the young Martinez were so obvious when he told this writer in an FB message: “Kainis kasi Tito yung gov't. This is my 2nd Olympics … still walang tulong. Kung tinulungan sana nila ako nung 2012 Youth Winter Olympics sana naka medal ako dun . Sayang talaga. (The PH government is so annoying. This is my 2nd Olympics … still I am not getting any help. Had they extended support on me during the 2012 Youth Winter Olympics, I could have won a medal there. It’s a pity, that chance got away.)
So pathetic indeed: Here is a young athlete – a phenom by any standard, a virtual world-beater – who is doing a lot of personal sacrifices to bring honor to the country through sports, but when he looks for help from the government and the private sector all he gets is sheer apathy all around.
The Filipino netizens are now aware of Martinez’s predicament. They are all over the social media bashing the government’s indifference. Global OFW Voices are saying that the millions of money wasted on graft (pork barrel) could have been spent on praiseworthy efforts like helping a phenomenal athlete compete in the Olympics. They are saying the government has a moral obligation to bankroll Martinez’s training until the kid reaches the top of the skating world. They are saying the tax monies are people’s money and the thieving politicos should be ashamed of themselves.
Said Martinez’s mom, Teresa: “The big problem now is on the funding of his training expenses. Although Michael received financial assistance from ShoeMart and PSU in May, it's been consumed for his daily training in the U.S., and was not even enough for the travelling expenses to competitions that we had to shoulder most of the travelling expenses, plus I was forced to bring a coach in Germany, thus additional expenses. And the same coach (Scott Wenland) also went with Michael in Estonia. Airfare, hotel and professional fee of the coach to Germany and Estonia alone cost us nearly $9,000. The cost goes up if we add the other incidental expenses.”
“I do not know whether the Philippine government, the Office of the President or the Phil. Sports Commission will now be willing to help Michael financially. But we need the financial assistance fast, as we only have few months left before the Olympics!” Mrs. Martinez added.
For those individuals/corporations who want to support/sponsor Michael, you can contact Teresa or Michael: email@example.com
(David Casuco writes sports, travel/tourism, and spirituality for the examiner.com. He obtained his journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas. He took expanded theological studies at the Angelus Bible Institute in Los Angeles. Email reax to David at firstname.lastname@example.org)