By DAVID CASUCO
LOS ANGELES – Philippines ice skating phenom Michael Christian Martinez landed back-to-back triple axels in a near flawless free skate program en route to a gold medal finish at the International Staking Union (ISU)-sanctioned 13th Crystal Skate held last week in Brasov, Romania.
The big victory was fitting gift to Martinez, who turned 16 on Nov. 4, the day of the competition. And with that winning performance, the multi-titled kid from Muntinlupa, Metro Manila, has moved to 10th in the world overall ranking among senior ice skaters. He is but two points shy of earning a berth in the World Championship to be held sometime in March 2013.
The Romania stint was an auspicious debut for Martinez, who was campaigning in the senior division for the first time. “I never thought I had any chance at all. considering that it was my first senior men’s event. I was nervous because I was competing against seasoned skaters,” he said. “One of the skaters, the 27 year-old Italian, was an ex-Olympian who saw action at the Canada Winter Games.”
Martinez placed third in the short program with 59.75 points. In front of him were local hero Zoltan Kelemen with 62.12 points, and Italy’s Paolo Bacchini who had 61.65.
However, in the free skate, Martinez suddenly found himself in a zone as he shook off nervousness to nail all his seven required jumps, highlighted by that eye-popping back-to-back triple axels. In skating lingo and axel is a jump where a skater takes three and a half spins in mid-air. And for a skater to execute that jump one after another, he is considered exceptional.
For that exceptional feat Martinez received an exceptional score of 185.75, moving past the leaders and outclassing the eleven-man field. In a way, Martinez is the odd man out among the competitors. Of the 11 finalists, Martinez was the youngest and the only skater representing a tropical country where kids think an ice rink is a kind of Popsicle.
Still skating without a coach due to lack of financial support, Michael had to rely on a force greater than him to pull through. “I didn’t have a coach to boost me up, so I was really nervous. My mom, who was acting as my coach, noticed that I was not myself.”
“I thought you prayed.”
“Yes I did. I asked the Lord to help me with my jumps.”
“Then go. What are you worrying about?”
Martinez said that he gained some confidence after that “coaching charge” from his mom. “Not only did I land all my seven jumps, including the double axels, but also finished the long program with plenty to spare.”
Early this year, during the Youth Winter Olympics, Martinez created quite a stir when he lined himself up for a medal finish. He was running third after the short program, outperforming skaters from traditional skating powerhouse countries. But his lack of training took a toll on the young Martinez; he limped home huffing and puffing in the long program. He dropped to seventh place.
In an exclusive Facebook communication with this writer, Martinez’s mother, Teresa, who had been acting as de facto coach to his son, deplores the apathy and the lack of support from the government and the private sector.
Teresa’s appeal follows: “I hope the Philippine government will give financial assistance to Michael. When he completed in the 2012 Youth Winter Olympics in January, we spent all our money and sponsors/fund raising money that helped his training to qualify and eventually to compete in the first ever Youth Winter Olympics;
“Again, it’s the same story: Only our own resources, from the proceeds of my mortgaged house, and help from friends and generous sponsor, AND NOTHING AT ALL FROM THE GOVERNMENT, that’s funding Michael’s training to be able to qualify in the March 2013 World Championships, which is the qualifying event for the 2014 Olympics. In October 2012 Michael was awarded scholarship money from ISU Junior Development Fund/Scholarship, which he used on his junior event competition expenses in October. That money has already been spent for his training and travels and travel abroad.”
Teresa said that in Romania her son received prize money as gold medalist, which is just enough to buy his plane ticket to his next competition in Germany sometime in December.
If you want to help this phenom athlete, Michael, email this writer or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Martinez’s next important competition is the Philippine National Championship on November 24-25. He will be pitting talents with senior skaters, including two Filipino-Americans aged 20 and 22, who both grew up and trained in the United States. (The author is former sportswriter for the Journal Publications. Email the author at email@example.com)