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From shopping mall to Sochi

Michael Christian Martinez of the Philippines reacts during the Mens Free Skating of the Figure Skating event at the Iceberg Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

Michael Christian Martinez of the Philippines reacts during the Mens Free Skating of the Figure Skating event at the Iceberg Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

Not only was Michael Christian Martinez the first Filipino to take part in the Winter Olympics, he also finished an impressive 19th in the figure skating competition

When you come from a country where winter is nothing but a vague idea, taking part in a world-class event is an achievement in itself. And it's one that Michael Christian Martinez pulled off recently by becoming the Philippines' lone representative to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Martinez, a17-year-old from Muntinlupa City, defied the odds to be the first-ever figure skater to carry the Philippine flag in the Winter Games.

He's also the first representative of the sport from Southeast Asia, a region where there are only two seasons: rainy and dry.

"I feel proud because there are a lot of people that say that because we're a tropical country; we can't do this or we can't do that," Martinez says,

"But what I say to them is that I'll be the first one to skate in the Olympics. I'm proud of that."

Martinez' dreams of making it to the biggest sporting stage in the world, in fact, started in a mere recreational skating rink in a shopping mall in the often-humid Manila.

"I saw skaters doing jumps and spins on the rink at the mall. After the first time I tried it I loved the sport already," he says.

But that small l - not even Olympic sized - rink located beside the busy foodcourt area of the mall, proved to be enough to cultivate Martinez' gem of a talent. He eventually got better training in the United States starting in 2010.

Martinez, bucking asthma and a surplus of injuries, then started reaping the rewards of his patience and hard work and was eventually gifted a slot in the prestigious Winter Games.

"It feels great that I'm here representing the Philippines at the Olympics," Martinez said.

"There is a lot of pressure on me because not only am I skating for my country, but for all the hard work I've put in the last four years."

He entered the biggest sporting stage with the modest goal of making it to the top 24 but Michael Martinez, the Philippines' brave lone Winter Olympian, achieved way more than that.

In two nights, Martinez turned "triple Axel jump" into a household phrase and managed to make the entire nation rally behind him with his gutsy and inspired performances in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

With his routines scheduled near midnight in Manila time, it seemed like every Filipino stayed up to witness him make history on the rink - holding their breaths as he soared through a triple Axel, and crossing their fingers that Martinez wouldn't spill.

And the 17-year-old, the youngest among the seasoned competitors, definitely didn't disappoint as he wound up 19th out of the top 24 at the close of the men's figure skating competition.

He garnered a score of 64.81 in the short skate where he performed to the tune of "Romeo and Juliet," then wowed in the free skate routine over the beat of "Malaguena" to earn 119.44 for the total of 184.25.

The 19-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu handed Japan its first-ever gold medal in a record-setting fashion, Canada's Patrick Chan bagged silver and Kazakhstan's Denis Ten went home with the bronze medal.

Martinez held the top spot after the first six skaters but gradually slipped down to his final placing.

In fact, it wasn't just the Filipinos who were enamoured with the gangly Martinez, even the foreign media couldn't help but be drawn to his inspiring story: a kid who started in a mall ice skating rink in the humid Manila who ended up in the medal round in the Olympics.

His story, including the sacrifices he and his family made just to be able to sustain his figure skating dreams - his parents had to mortgage their house to fund his Olympic dream - were heard by thousands as it was carried by major news outfits from all over the world.

And getting that sustained financial support for his build-up until the 2018 Winter games doesn't seem like a far-fetched idea now with the immense promise Martinez showed.

He may not be going home with a shiny medal dangling from his neck, but Martinez HAS gained the attention and respect of the not only the entire nation but also the world.






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