By DAVID CASUCO
MANILA – Surely, there seems to be no rest for the weary. After his stint at the Sochi Winter Olympics where he captivated the world with his awe-inspiring performance, Filipino figure skating star Michael Christian Martinez returned home February 23 to face a dizzying maze of activity as his countrymen couldn’t seem to have enough of him.
Wherever the phenom skater goes, a crowd of young people get loud and rowdy; they push one another to get near him, hug him, kiss him, take his picture, and oblige him to do autographs.
“It has been like this since we arrived,” said Teresa during the meet and greet event at the South Mall in Las Pinas, a suburbia 21 kilometers south of Manila. SM South Mall is the place where Martinez got introduced to the sport when he was eight years old.
The activity center of the mall was filled to the rafters a few hours before Martinez arrived for the late afternoon event. At 4:25 p.m. ear-splitting shrieks, and screams were heard heralding Martinez’s arrival.
Surrounded by a coterie of mall security officers, the young athlete, garb in his Olympic training pants and a black sports jacket with a large SM emblem, took his place onstage and started waving to the crowd who reacted with a thunderous roar each time.
A quick presentation was held, recognizing Martinez as an SM Supermalls Global Pinoy honorary member. The presentation was done by Glenn Ang, VP-Operations Manager; and Babyruth Chuaunsu, AVP for operations.
“Thank you for your love and support,” said Martinez. Getting magnanimous now, the quick-smiling lad told the crowd not to forget other PH Olympians who also bring honor to the country. “Mabuhay ang mga Pilipino! Mabuhay ang mga athletes!” he said. And responding to question how he can help his fellow Filipinos, Martinez told the adoring crowd: “I will come back here to teach you guys.”
A select group of teens and young children were allowed to come onstage to have a picture taken with Martinez. The members of the media that came did not have a chance to field their questions. This writer got hold of Teresa, Michael’s de-facto coach, but our interview was drowned by the din of the crowd who had gone onstage and was ready to mob their sports hero.
Teresa said that his son is going back to California to start training for his next important competition. Last year, inadequate training regardless, Martinez came in fifth in the World Junior Skating Championships in Milan, Italy.
Asked by this writer to give a heads up on his chances in Sofia, Bulgaria now that training expenses is no longer an issue, Martinez said that his Russian coach, Victor Kurdryatsev, has taken a “no-go stance” because his body would not be ready by then.
“We are not sure about the Bulgaria junior worlds anymore. His coach has advised Michael not to do it because he won’t have time to prepare,” said Martinez’s mother. “With barely one week left, his (Michael’s) body won’t have time to rest and recover from the frenetic activities in Manila. Crossing time zones is another problem that could pull back his preparedness.”
After the Olympics, Martinez was flooded with pledges of support from the public and private sectors. Whether or not those pledges eventually turn into gold is yet to be seen. Martinez, 17, is qualified to compete in both the junior and men’s divisions. In the juniors, he is ranked 5th; in the men’s he is 30th in the world. That ranking though is going to move up after his 19th place finish in the Olympics.
Earlier in the day, Martinez was cheered by his legions of fans during a motorcade around the City of Muntinlupa, his hometown, where he was honored with some cash incentives. Tomorrow, Feb. 25, Martinez will do another meet and greet event at the EDSA Megamall where he will do a skating presentation. He leaves for California on the 27th to resume his training.
(David Casuco writes sports and spirituality for examiner.com and Mabuhay News Service. He obtained his journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas and took expanded theological studies at the Angelus Bible Institute in Los Angeles.)