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Martinez, first Olympic figure skater from Southeast Asia, learned at a mall

February 12, 2014 6:28am
Places with no snow are not supposed to produce Winter Olympians. That is why Filipino figure skater Michael Martinez is such a novelty and inspiration at the Games in Sochi, Russia.

But even tropical countries now have ice rinks, like at Philippine SM malls where shoppers can don gloves and skates and experience how hard ice skating is.

A few enjoy it enough to take lessons and learn to glide gracefully on ice. But only Martinez has shown enough talent and determination to make it to the Olympics, the first Filipino at the winter games since 1992, and the first figure skater ever from Southeast Asia.


In love with skating
 
Martinez, in an interview with NBCOlympics.com, said he quickly fell in love with the sport. “I saw skaters doing jumps and spins on the rink at the mall. After the first time I tried it, I loved the sport already.”
 
He also took to the sport since his asthma prevented him from playing soccer and other outdoor sports. Martinez would eventually skate once a week at the mall rink.
 
Now the 17-year-old Martinez is the Philippines' lone representative to the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
 
“There is a lot of pressure on me because not only am I skating for my country, but for all the hard work I've put in the last four years,” he said.
 
Yet, he said he feels proud because he managed to defy naysayers who said he could not get to this point because the Philippines is a tropical country.

It would not have happened without indoor ice rinks at malls. Unlike countries with winters, Filipinos cannot learn on frozen lakes or rinks at public parks. The facilities at SM malls are all they have.

Three ice skating rinks

SM Skating operates three rinks: one in SM Southmall, another at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay, and a recently re-opened third in SM Megamall. One has to live near one of them in order to get a lot of ice time. Martinez would train for four to six hours a day.

In addition, aspirants who wish to be world-class figure skaters like Martinez need money. A top-caliber skater may shell out P50,000 to P75,000 per month for lessons and equipment.

"A skater has to go the extreme, he has to choose between going to a regular school and training," said Noel C. Resultay, the operations manager for ice skating at the Southmall branch. "Michael opted to have a home study program to concentrate fully on his training."

The mall chain said that it has done its part in supporting Martinez.

"Aside from giving him free ice time at all SM ice skating rinks, SM Prime President Hans Sy, through the Philippine Skating Union, has given Michael a total amount of Php 1.5 million to defray the cost of his training locally and abroad," said Raymund Retumban, Division Manager of SM Ice Skating Rinks. "The Philippine Skating Union has also solicited Php 500,000 from individuals which was also given to him last November 2013."

Indoors, the country's tropical weather is rarely a factor.

"Ice skating is a unique sport in a tropical country like the Philippines. Filipino skaters are very passionate about it," Resultay said, adding that it suits Pinoys who have natural rhythm and like to dance. "Filipinos in figure skating are known to be versatile and expressive, like how they easily interpret music through their gracefulness of movements seems natural."  

Russian coach
 
Beyond a certain level, figure skaters need to go overseas to develop.
 
NBCOlympics.com noted that Martinez trained in Los Angeles under a Russian coach to become the first figure skater to represent any Southeast Asian country.
 
“I feel proud because there are a lot of people who say that because we're a tropical country, we can't do this or we can't do that. But what I say to them is that I'll be the first one to skate in the Olympics. I’m proud of that,” he said.
 
For a time, Martinez trained in Colorado Springs to observe top-level U.S. skaters like Jeremy Abbott and “saw the difference in how they worked.”
 
But noting he was "missing a lot of stuff," he moved part-time to Los Angeles, where he worked with a team that includes 1998 Olympic champion Ilia Kulik, coach John Nicks and choreographer Phillip Mills.
 
He mainly works with Viktor Kudriyavtsev, a longtime coach in the sport who had Martinez train in Moscow last month.
 
Earning the Olympic berth
 
Martinez earned an Olympic berth at a qualifying event in late September, one of six Sochi places up for grabs.
 
He looks up to Olympians such as Patrick Chan, Yuna Kim and Yuzuru Hanyu.
 
For now, his goal in Sochi is to qualify for the free skate by landing in the top 24.
 
"That would be a big accomplishment for me," he said, adding he does not know how he will fare against the competition "because my training is so different, but we'll see.” — with reporting by Renee Fopalan/ ELR/HS, GMA News



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