By Dionesio C. Grava
Photos: Maria Teresa Martinez
“And my other problem was that I was already forewarned by the PSU/NSA that if I bring my complaint of no support to the media, my son may not be given anymore international assignments.” — Maria Teresa Martinez
At a time when most kids his age remain comfy inside the cocoons of parental dependency or otherwise preoccupied with fads or even mischief, Michael has been into rigid training of at least six hours each day — and school studies in between — in his efforts to make a better person of himself. In the process he has also been able to put the Philippines in the world ice skating map.
Michael was into recreational skating starting when he was eight-and-a-half years old. He had his first competitive event in Colorado Springs in June 2008 where he garnered several gold medals.
In October 2009 he won gold in all of his first major competitions under the International Skating Union (ISU) in Slovakia, Slovenia and Austria. He is also the undefeated champ of Asian junior figure skating since 2008 and had garnered many other international and local plums.
In September, last year, Michael placed eighth in the Junior Grand Prix of the World Figure Skating Championships held in Brisbane. In June of that same year he received the Hollin’s Trophy in Sydney. In the 1st Winter Youth Olympic Games (WYOG) held from January 16-22, 2012, in Innsbruck, Austria, Michael was third in the short program and seventh in the free skate.
At age 15, Michael had amassed a total of 188 medals and trophies from both local and international competitions — 146 of them gold medals. He has also a gold medal and five others won in local gymnastics.
Michael was in Belarus early this month competing in the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships 2012 and was quite impressed of the venue. In addition to the main ice ring, the huge sports arena has a separate rink for hockey, another for the public to practice, indoor speed skating tracks, medical facilities for athletes and more amenities. There are reportedly two other ice rinks built by the government so that their athletes can train with modern facilities.
“In Philippines,” Michael noted in his Facebook page, “we only have 1 Olympic size ice rink in the whole country. & our ice rink is inside the shopping mall & it’s mainly for public skating. We are paying ice time but there is no freestyle session, so high level skaters cannot practice there.”
At that time he had just completed the junior men event and was feeling low because of his 15th place in a field of 40 skaters. He should have been ranked higher because his technical scores were the 8th highest, he said. Earlier he placed third in the preliminary rounds and sixth in the short program.
If the above feats and achievements of Michael are not daunting enough, fancy this: Snow in tropical Philippines is as exotic as, say, sighting the mythic Sasquatch. In fact the only ice most Filipinos would see in their lifetimes are the cubed ones we buy to cool our drinks. That being the case, Michael is further handicapped by sub-zero conditions as had occurred in Innsbruck and Belarus. He said of the latter, “Coming from a tropical country, negative 15 Celsius is too cold for me.”
And then there are the injuries. Michael was quoted in one interview saying, “Ang ayaw ko lang sa skating: ma-injured.” (The only thing I dislike in skating is getting injured.) And to reduce the incidence of injury, Michael cross-trains in gymnastics, plyometrics and trampoline. Still skating is an injury-prone sport and in addition to being asthmatic, Michael had experienced many falls, repeated injuries and torn ligaments during trainings and competitions.
In Merano, Italy, for example, he had to withdraw from the competition because a thigh was pierced by the skate blade during a bad fall and he had to be rushed to the hospital because of profuse bleeding. In October-November of 2010 he missed several competitions because of ankle injuries that had him in cast for three months. In the recent Belarus games he hurt an ankle which gave him so much pain during practices and programs. Additionally he had sprained a knee and pulled back muscles that required three days of treatment in that country.
Michael is supposed to compete in the Asian Junior Challenge to be held in China this coming April 6 but had to withdraw due to injuries (sprain/swollen ankle) from a very bad fall/twisting of his ankle during his last day of practice in Anaheim before the flight back to Philippines.
Lip service from the government
During a press conference in Nov. 4, 2011, Manuel Veguillas of the Philippine Skating Union (PSU) grandly proclaimed the country’s choice of Michael Martinez as the lone representative to the Olympic Games in Austria: “We’re blessed to have someone as talented as Michael to represent the country in the Winter Olympics.”
In an exchange of notes with Michael, however, PinoyWatchdog learned that the Philippine government has been nickel-and-diming its support to an athlete who has done much to bring honor and prestige to the country.
Wrote Michael: “Nung lumaban nga ho ako sa Olympic qualifying last year, I just borrowed the coach of Thailand, kasi wala akong coach hindi kaya ni mama na gumasta para sa coach. Then nung lumaban ho ako sa Youith Olympics last January, wala rin ho akong coach uli. Si mama lang ang tumayong coach ko. Ayaw talaga nilang magsupport. Nung matapos yung Olympics dun lang nagabot ng konting pera ang PSC $700 at shoemart $850 para lang masabing tumulong sila kuno. Its too late dahil dapat tinulungan nila ako sa training ko for Olympics. Then again dito sa world championship, again ni singko wala silang itinulong uli…” (When I competed to qualify for the Olympics last year, I just borrowed the coach of Thailand because my mom could not afford to hire a coach. Then when I competed in the Youth Olympics last January, I again didn’t have a coach. My mother had to stand in as my coach. They really don’t want to give support. It was only after the Olympics that PSC handed out $700 and Shoemart $850 just so it can be said that they were helping. It was too late because they should have helped me during the training for the Olympics. Then again in this world championship, not even five centavos was given to help…)
His mother, Maria Teresa Martinez, agrees. Many times Michael had participated in international competitions without a coach because they could not afford to hire one. In an email dated March 13 to PinoyWatchdog.com, she said: “I do not know who can help me bring my son’s case to the office of the President. I do not have any more money to support his training, and I feel so bad for my son because he had proven that he can defeat skaters from traditional skating countries, and he wants to qualify & compete in the 2014 regular winter Olympics, but we have no more budget for that. And my other problem was that I was already forewarned by the PSU/NSA that if I bring my complaint of no support to the media, my son may not be given anymore international assignments.”
In another note dated March 22 she said, “… he (Michael) is not adequately supported/funded by Philippine sports agencies concerned — the Philippine Skating Union (PSU), the national sports association for figure skating, and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC). The only money they, PSU & PSC, have given so far was the daily allowance in Innsbruck during the youth Olympic games in Jan., 2012. Phil. Olympic Committee (POC) is helping to get a refund of Michael’s Youth Olympic training expenses from PSC (training expenses in Nov. 7, 2011 till Jan. 7, 2012) but there is no refund until today.”
On May 26, Mrs. Martinez wrote about Michael: “His skate shoes was so much worn out (he was using it for more than a year, while normally skaters in his level change shoes every 4 to 5 months) but since we were trying to save money on very expensive skate shoes that currently costs $1,200 (with blades) then Michael was forced to skate (and compete in several prestigious competitions including Olympics and world championship) using his worn-out & unstable skate shoes (he was just wrapping the top portion of the shoes with packaging tapes to prevent the shoes from collapsing).”
She is grateful that a donor had come up with the amount to pay for a new pair of skating shoes. The same donor, as well as many other Californians, had also helped in Michael’s U.S. training expenses, she said.
“If Michael was not trained in the U.S., he will never stand a chance in competitive skating,” Mrs. Martinez said. “But his training abroad depleted our life savings, sad to say. We had also “exhausted” our relatives and friends who had also been giving financial support in the past, which enabled Michael to compete abroad. Everybody in our family ‘sacrifices’ just so Michael can continue with his U.S. training. Michael’s sister used to skate too, but had to stop skating due to high cost, same with his 2 nieces.”
“Michael badly needs sponsors for his continuing training in the U.S. since he has more competitions this year starting in July, August and onwards in preparation for his World Championship competition in March, 2013 (which is the qualifying event for the 2014 Winter Olympics),” Mrs. Martinez said. Mother and son Michael are currently in Manila with the latter catching up on school assignments.
Michael is the youngest of three children of Maria Teresa Martinez, a single parent. He will be in fourth year high school of the Muntinlupa School for Child Development in June (home-schooled). The eldest of the brood, Paul Alexis, is 29, married and in charge of the farm business. Maria Angelica, 19, is a full scholar at Colorado College in Colorado Springs pursuing a degree in Economics and Pre-Medicine. A high school graduate from San Beda College in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, she subsequently finished a two-year International Baccalaureate Course at the United World Colleges in Costa Rica.