When Michael Christian Martinez left the Philippines to join the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, he was just another athlete; a nameless, faceless figure.
But that began to change when the world watched him curiously as he waved the Philippine flag proudly during the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics as the lone representative of the Philippines, a tropical country.
He instantly captured the hearts and interest of the international media and the Filipino people, who were amazed when they saw his incredible performances in Sochi, Russia.
Martinez put the Philippines on the skating map, a very surprising feat considering that the country does not experience winter at all, something pointed out by some of his competitors who were equally amazed at this 17-year-old charming athlete.
Out of thousands of aspirants for the Olympics, Martinez made it to the top 30.
The first homegrown talent from tropical Southeast Asia to compete in figure skating succeeded in landing at the 19th spot overall in the men’s singles. Although he didn’t win, such a rank is already a fantastic feat and made him an overnight hero among the Filipinos.
A Hero’s Welcome
In contrast to his quiet departure from the country, Martinez was greeted by screams and applause when he arrived from Sochi on Sunday, February 23. Fans waited for more than two hours just to see him in person.
It certainly was a hero’s welcome for the young man, with the SM group literally rolling out the red carpet to welcome the young skater – and rightfully so, considering that it was at SM’s skating rinks that he learned how to skate and, later, honed his skills to qualify for the Olympics.
The SM Group of Companies was among his earliest supporters even when he was still virtually unknown.
The operations officer of the SM Mall of Asia skating rink, Juliet Fantolgo, revealed that interest in skating has greatly increased since Michael’s appearance in the Winter Olympics.
She said that from the usual 200 walk-in skaters, the mall now receives as many as 500. Also, Saturday skaters have also increase from 300 to 500.
Martinez was welcomed by a motorcade upon his arrival and was whisked to the Mall of Asia, where thousands of fans waited.
The soft-spoken young skater humbly said that he shares the honor and glory of his Olympic feat with all Filipino athletes. He also revealed how he thought of this family, the country, and God while performing his routines, enabling him to try harder and complete the hardest jumps and spins.
For his achievement, Martinez received lifetime free skating privileges in all SM ice skating rinks and US$10,000 from the SM Group, according to Hans Sy, the SM Prime Holdings president. Earlier, Manuel V. Pangilinan also promised to give him US$10,000.
Aside from those, he also received free three-day-and-two-night accommodation at SM’s heritage Taal Vista Hotel plus cash cards and gift certificates from China Banking Corp., SM Supermarket, and The SM Store.
Global Pinoy awarded him as Global Pinoy Honorary Member.
Martinez is slated to perform on February 25 at 12 noon at the Mall of Asia and at 4 p.m. in SM Megamall.
He is set to leave the country to compete in the World Junior Figure Skating Championships at Sofia, Bulgaria, on March 10-16. Last year, he ranked 5th in that competition.
Unknown to many, Martinez has already earned 194 medals and trophies from local and international competitions. He qualified for the Olympics after ranking 7th at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany.