By DAVID CASUCO
LOS ANGELES â€“The image of a Filipino skater receiving a medal in the Winter Olympics does not have any shades of reality. Even in dreams, where the sequence of actions do not follow logic, the chance of an athlete from a tropical country winning in winter games seems like a bad dream.
But in sports there are phenoms and they are exceptions to the way normal things go. These athletes have what it takes to perform over and beyond what disciplined and well-trained athletes are capable of doing.
One such athlete is ice skater Michael Christian Martinez, who lives in Muntinlupa City, a Metro Manila suburbia where people donâ€™t have a clue what an ice rink is. But for fifteen year-old Michael, the thin ice is his milieu, and his skills are at par and in some instances, way better than some of the best ice skaters of the world.
As if by fate, Michael grew up when SM was building an Olympic-sized skating rink inside the second largest mall in the world, which is the Mall of Asia (MOA). And while SM builds rinks essentially for recreational purposes, Michael made it his virtual playground until one day, at the SM South Mall in Paranaque, a skating coach spotted him and told him, â€œYou are good. You can compete in international ice skating events.â€ That was 2005. Five years and hundreds of competitions later, Michael has been getting a lot of attention from the international skating world.
â€œSome of the things that he does on thin ice are sheer phenomenal. He executes jumps and spins with relative ease, and his artistry is compelling as it is fascinating,â€ says an avid skating fan who has seen some of Michaelâ€™s best performances.
Notwithstanding the great odds that come in asthma attacks and the lack of support from the government and private sector, Michaelâ€™s skating skills have progressed dramatically from above average to excellent, and to a level of a world beater.
The chronic asthma became less of a problem lately, but the financial woes didnâ€™t. Michaelâ€™s mom, a single parent, is hard pressed to bankroll the training and travels of her youngest son.
In an interview with this writer last week, Michael lamented the apathy of the government and the private sector to the ice skating sports; this despite the successes that he accomplished in local and international competitions where he won 187 medals, 145 of them gold.
â€œWala talaga kami suporta na makuha. Ang training ko under my coaches dapat three or more hours, bale nagiging isang oras lang po, kasi nga walang kami pambayad,â€ said Michael. â€œAng mommy ko napapaiyak na lang.â€
And while his mom is in Manila soliciting for logistical support, Michael is now deep in preparation for the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria next month. For Michael, that event is the acid test of how good he is. That is, so far, the biggest stage that he will ever perform in his sports career.
He does his daily training at The Rinks in Anaheim under the watchful eyes of in-house Fil-Am instructor Ted Domingo. But for Michaelâ€™s jumps, Ilia Kulik, the former ice skating champ from Russia, is his guide. He does his lessons with Kulik in Paramount City. And for choreography and artistry, he goes to Alex Chang at the rinks of Michelle Kwan in Artesia. And for the elements of his whole program, another coach, Peter Congcasem takes care of that.
Michael said that as far as his preparation is concerned, he is now on perfecting his jumps, spins, and the other elements of his program. He said it is in the spins where his strength is more pronounced as a skater.
During this interview at The Rinks in Anaheim, this writer checked on his YouTube video, and sure enough, his skating is very competitive, his artistry intricate and elegant, and his spins are half human and half amazing. That performance at the Brisbane, Australia junior grand prix event, earned for Michael the ticket to Winter Youth Olympic Games, and the right to represent the Philippines, an exposure he needs to build his confidence and competitiveness.
But then, he will be going there without a coach. His momâ€™s okra export business is not doing well right now, and whatever little money they saved had been spent for their travels to Singapore, Australia, and California.
It would have been a different story if Michael is a promising boxer or basketball player growing up in Manila. All the support he will need would come in generously handy. But for skating, generally regarded in the Philippines as mere recreational sports, the peopleÂ who are in a position to help just turn the other way even when a phenom comes along. Unlike in countries like Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, skating â€“ which is the centerpiece event in the Winter Olympics â€“ is viewed in a totally different light.
Michaelâ€™s worst fear is the scenario where money is short and he wonâ€™t be able to go. A group of Fil-Ams in Anaheim has started to help Michael and his mom. They are soliciting donations for this phenomenal young Filipino athlete. If you want to help Michael go to the Winter Olympics, contact us at Balita (818.552.4503) and we will hook you up with Michael and his mom.