Philippine Olympic figure skater Michael Christian Martinez was hailed as a hero even as a senior sports official denied accusations that the government had failed to support him.
The 17-year-old, the country’s lone representative at the Sochi Games, made history after he qualified Thursday from the men’s short program for the free skate on Friday, despite numerous disadvantages, including being forced to learn his craft on a skating rink in a shopping mall.
He had a 119.44 total score behind a technical score of 62.58 and component score of 57.68.
Martinez made it to the medal round last Friday after posting a 64.81 score in the short program routine.
“Thank you for all the prayers and support. I love you all,” said Martinez in his Facebook account.
Martinez played to Malaguena by Ernesto Lecuona. It was the same music theme he used when he qualified for the Olympics in the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy.
Japanese Yuzuru Hanyu, 19, a world record holder, captured the gold with a score of 101.45. Canadian Patrick Chen took the silver and Denis Ten of Kazakhstan the bronze.
Local news reports suggested his family had struggled to pay for his training and that the government did not provide any support.
But Ricardo Garcia, chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), said Martinez had received adequate financial support from the government and private donors.
“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,” Garcia said.
“This is a very big issue for us. We have an athlete who is an Olympian who made it to the final rounds,” he added.
Some of the country’s wealthiest tycoons were sponsoring Martinez and the national skating association never asked for additional funds for him, Garcia said.
The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) asked the government for $7,200 to cover some of Martinez’s additional expenses but this money was released in December, he added.
Speaking after his performance at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Friday, Martinez said he was elated with his performance: “The first half was pretty good, but halfway though the program I got out of breath, but I did my best all the way through. This is the first time I landed the triple axel in the second half of the program.”
He is already looking towards the next Winter Games in South Korea.
“If I can get more support financially, I’m thinking about the next Olympics and getting a medal there,” he added.
Users of social media were agog over Martinez’s success in a sport so alien to his country.
Popular director Jose Javier Reyes wrote in a message to Martinez on Twitter: “The medal is immaterial. In the hearts of your countrymen, your feat is more than an Olympic Gold. You INSPIRE!”
“Was teary eyed when I saw #MichaelChristianMartinez wave his jacket with PHILIPPINES printed on it. He put his heart&soul in his performance,” another tweet said.
Garcia said the youngster had “the attitude of a winner” and would use his time in Sochi “as a stepping stone to gain more experience for the next Olympics.”
Malacañang also commended Martinez, calling him a trailblazer.
“Considering that he was the first competitor from a tropical country, he showed that he was really a trailblazer. I’m sure his performance will attract a lot of private companies to donate to his cause,” Deputy Presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said in a radio interview.
Martinez will receive a $10,000 bonus from telecommunications magnate Manny Pangilinan, according to Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes. The cash reward will come from the Manny V. Pangilinan Sports Foundation.
Valte said Martinez will need all the help he can get from the government and the private sector in his bid to return and finish higher in the 2018 Winter Games.
“It is a long road to 2018 and we see him getting a lot of support and cheers,” she added.
After his scintillating Olympic debut, Martinez will compete in the Ice Skating World Competition in Bulgaria.
AFP, LLANESCA T. PANTI AND JOSEF RAMOS