MANILA, Philippines – Michael Christian Martinez left for Sochi with little notice and he returned to Manila – after his inspiring stint – greeted with a hero’s welcome Sunday.
Martinez, the lone Filipino in the 2014 Winter Olympics, just arrived after a grueling flight from Russia and had a motorcade from the airport to Mall of Asia, where a press conference awaited his arrival.
“I’m very happy and proud. It’s an honor to be able to represent the country and make history for the Philippines,” a beaming Martinez said as onlookers, who anxiously waited for hours just to catch a glimpse or a shot of Martinez from their cameras and mobile phones, crowded around the makeshift area beside the mall’s skating rink, where the teenage sensation addressed the media.
The 17-year-old Martinez prepared a speech simply thanking those who supported him and briefly describing what it felt to gracefully perform before the world while a country rested on his narrow shoulders and Filipinos tuned into their television sets in the wee hours to see the youngest participant in the field strut his stuff in a pair of skates.
“Best day of my life. Skating for the Philippines is a dream come true,” Martinez said during his three-minute speech.
Martinez, who seemed in awe with the kind of response he’s been getting since his stint, also recalled his short program and free skate performances.
“At the start I just thought I’m doing this for God, the country and for my mother,” he said as he walked through on his performance.
“Nung sumablay ako (when I missed) I thought ‘no this can’t be’ I [knew] I had to push harder that’s why I was able to land the next difficult jump,” Martinez added, recalling the time he got off-balance as he landed off a spin during the final round where he finished 19th out of 24.
Also a memorable experience for Martinez was when he was befriended by his idol and eventual silver medalist Patrick Chan.
“He (Chan) congratulated me. Natuwa ako (I felt flattered). I didn’t expect him to congratulate me especially when he’s a Canadian champion.”
After Sochi, Martinez, who was granted $10,000 by the SM Foundation and a Lifetime Skating Privilege in all SM skating rinks, won’t have much time to rest with another international competition coming.
Martinez will again fly out of the country to train in the US on Feb. 27 for the Junior World Championship in Bulgaria on March 10 to 15.
Martinez said he got a lot of “you have a skating rink in the Philippines?” from his competitors. And it turns out, the Philippines, a tropical country, is also home to the first Southeast Asian to compete in figure skating.