Philippines Olympics hero: Seventeen-year-old Michael Martinez made Olympic history on Thursday as the first Filipino and Southeast Asian to qualify in the Winter Olympics men’s figure skating.
Martinez qualified for the free skate final on Friday, despite being from a tropical country and facing numerous disadvantages.
The Philippines’ lone representative at the Winter Olympics, he finished 19th overall at the end of the event on Saturday morning in Sochi, Russia.
Because of the absence of snow in the Philippines, Martinez was forced to initially learn his art in a shopping mall skating rink.
Local news reports said that Martinez’s family has struggled to pay for his training and that the Philippine government did not provide any support to him, but a senior sports official denied the accusations
“We are very happy with his performance. For a guy who learned how to skate in the Philippines, to make it to the finals. … It is really amazing,” said Philippine Sports Commission chairman Ricardo Garcia.
“This is a very big issue for us. We have an athlete who is an Olympian who made it to the final rounds.”
Garcia said that Martinez had received adequate financial support from both the government and private donors, according to reports.
He said some of the Philippine’s wealthiest tycoons were sponsoring Martinez and the national skating association never asked for additional funds for him, Garcia said.
Martinez’s success in a sport so alien to his own country became a hot topic on social media.
“The medal is immaterial. In the hearts of your countrymen, your feat is more than an Olympic Gold. You inspire,” wrote popular director Jose Javier Reyes on Twitter.
“Was teary eyed when I saw #MichaelChristianMartinez wave his jacket with PHILIPPINES printed on it. He put his heart & soul in his performance,” read another tweet.
Garcia said Martinez will use his experience at the Sochi Games “as a stepping stone to gain more experience for the next Olympics”.