Third Time's The Charm? Filipino Figure Skater Michael Martinez Makes It To The Olympics For The Third Time
Nothing is figurative about the hopes and dreams of Filipino figure skater Michael Martinez. Once just a boy training in a shopping mall's ice skating rink, the 21-year-old will officially represent the Philippines at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
In the beginning, his audience was skeptical. How can a figure skater from a country with no winter and zero snow fall ever become good enough to compete in a sport so foreign to his homeland? Rather than feel discouraged, Michael used these doubts to fuel his passion. He trained tirelessly for months with his family making many sacrifices to allow him to do so.
Today, six years since his first major international competition, Michael has his family--and the entire nation--behind him and cheering for his big win.
Like many success stories, Michael's journey to his opportunity for success was long and arduous. As a young athlete, the only resource he had was SM's skating rink to train in that he shared with many mall goers, curious kids, and even couples on dates. It was a far cry from the Olympic-sized training grounds his contenders get to practice day in and day out.
It didn't help that Michael was also a sickly child who needed to exert effort to excel in the physically demanding sport. Worst of all, throughout his early days a fledgling skater, he faced homophobic insults from peers and strangers alike that poked fun at his masculinity, given the supposed softness of his chosen sport.
Despite all of this, Michael persevered.
He skated under the guidance of a handful of trainers from 2005 to 2013 until finally, SM, the Philippine Skating Union, and the Philippines Skating Committee took notice of his dedication and of course, his talent. The three institutions worked together to fund Michael's training that cost at least P1.5M --formal training at that, and training facilitated by no less than Olympic coaches based in the United States.
Michael couldn't have asked for more. As he packed his bags to train abroad, his heart remained in the Philippines. All of it, as he knows until this day, was for his country.
After just a year of training in the US, Michael saw himself qualifying for the 2012 Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. In 2014, he would make history as the lone Filipino and first ever Filipino figure skater to represent the country at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
While not bringing home the gold in these two major competitions, Michael did something much more remarkable: he sparked hope in all of the country's aspiring Olympians. He proved that circumstance and the lack of resources are not insurmountable challenges--not when you have the drive, courage, and focus to get to where you want to be.
His latest and most inspiring feat is making it to the Olympics for the third time this year. He will be one of two Filipinos set to participate in the competition, the other being Asa Miller who will put her skills to the test in the slalom skiing event. Now based in Southern California, Michael perfected his routines under the trained eye of former Ukrainian Olympian Vyacheslav Zahorodnyuk.
But Michael's third-time participation at the Olympics didn't come easy. In fact, the Filipino athlete didn't initially qualify for the competition. He failed to score enough points at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany last year that determined the figure skaters that would get to make it to the Olympics. Only the top six scorers were chosen; Michael placed 7th and was shortlisted.
In a twist of fate, a Swedish skater backed out of the challenge, and the shot to glory was given to a too-happy-for-words Michael. With the blink of an eye, Michael and his coach went on their way to South Korea and he couldn't have felt more ready.
The South Korea Winter Olympics is set to begin on February 9, which leaves him only a little over a week before he takes the ice on February 16. He will be competing at the Ganeung Ice Arena in Pyeonchang and hopefully, wowing the judges as well with his performance timed to the tune of "Emerald Tiger."
Good luck, Michael! We'll be watching and cheering for you back in home base!
Content and cover image from @mz_viral