Michael Christian Martinez returned home on Sunday from a remarkable stint as a figure skater at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The 17-year-old from Muntinlupa City arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal 1 with his mother Maria Teresa Cuyo Martinez and Manuel Vitan Veguillas, Philippine Skating Union president.
“I’m so happy to be home,” Martinez said.
Martinez made it to the medal round of the men’s figure skating competition, where he faced some of the world’s best skaters.
He finished 19th, but his spirited performance earned him worldwide admiration.
Martinez became the first Olympic figure skater from Southeast Asia.
Veguillas said Martinez did his best against top athletes from countries with a winter season.
“Ang Pilipino pala kahit walang snow gumagawa ng maganda, [Even without snow, the Filipino can accomplish wonders]” he said.
From the airport, Martinez rode in a motorcade to the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.
In his short speech, he thanked the people who supported him during the competition.
“I am honored to represent the country in the Winter Olympics in Russia.
I am extremely happy with the hero’s welcome but let us not also forget our other athletes who are also heroes,” he said.
His fans waited for hours at the SM Mall of Asia Skating Rink just to catch a glimpse of the country’s newest sports sensation.
Ogie Ibabao, who came from Cavite, said: “I don’t mind waiting for so long. I just wanted to see and greet Michael for making us Filipinos proud.”
Edgar Terejero, president of the SM Lifestyle Entertainment Section, recalled that Martinez was first drawn to ice skating in 2004, when saw the skating rink of SM Southmall.
Once he stepped onto the ice, he realized that the eight-year-old had found his calling, Terejero said.
Determined to hone his skating skills, Martinez enrolled for formal lessons at the SM Ice Skating rink.
“Despite frequent bouts of asthma, he never gave up on his dreams to become a professional figure skater,” Terejero said.
Not long after, he started joining local competitions.
SM Prime Holdings President Hans Sy said Martinez “inspired millions by following his dreams and by competing in the Winter Olympics.”
“We are very proud of Michael. He is a shining example to the youth as someone who saw no limits to what he can achieve,” said Sy.
Sy also awarded the Filipino Olympian $10,000 for his training and joining competitions.
Earlier, top businessman and sports patron Manny Pangilinan pledged $10,000 to Martinez.
Mayor Antonino Calixto of Pasay recognized the skater as an honorary citizen of the city.
Martinez has won 194 medals and trophies from various international and local competitions.
In an earlier interview, he said he is looking forward to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Korea where he hopes to win a medal.
In one of his interviews during the competition, Martinez said that skating with veterans and top world skaters is really different. “I feel really happy to be with them, it feels like I’m already a champion and yeah, skating here with them and competing here with them, it feels really great.”