POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 20 February 2014, Thursday
“He was a skater boy, she said see you later boy, he wasn’t good enough for her…”
The majority of us had never even heard of Michael Christian Martinez until we saw that now-iconic image of him marching at the Olympic parade bearing the Philippine flag, accompanied only by a three-member entourage.
Martinez’s appearance there was a surprise to Filipinos who hadn’t expected to see our flag borne by a lone kababayan smiling bravely, in contrast to the throngs of chattering athletes fielded by other countries.
It wasn’t until this 17-year-old showed that he was a contender to reckon with, when broadcast commentators and foreign media heaped praise on his performances, that we appropriated him as a symbol of Philippine pride.
Now everyone’s an expert, the sports terms flowing glibly from our lips – triple axel, lutz, toe loop, camel, doughnut, cantilever spread. We stayed up till the wee hours to watch his performances live, thrilled as much as Martinez was when, in the kiss-and-cry, he held up to the world’s cameras his jacket that spelled “Philippines.”
We rejoiced as a nation when he achieved his goal of being among the 24 contestants going into the finals; our pride burst our hearts when he finished 19th among the best skaters of the world.
However, we had nothing at all to do with Martinez’s getting to Sochi as the first Filipino participant to the Winter Olympics in 22 years, the youngest male skater in this Olympiad, the first skater from Southeast Asia to qualify for the Games.
He did that on his own, with the help of his family and a few sponsors.
No one else can claim credit for his feat save himself, because he had a dream so huge, so impossible, but he wanted for it to come true so badly that he pursued that goal single-mindedly until he reached it.
Martinez’s triumphs are his own, something to remember because we tend to appropriate the achievements of Filipinos around the world; we track their accomplishments and claim them as the country’s or that of our people, though we do not necessarily help them along their journey.
In these Games alone, local media has reported on what they call “global Filipinos” – those with Filipino heritage who have migrated to or were born in other countries – competing under the banners of other countries, such as speed skaters JR Celski for the US and Gilmore Junio for Canada. We have nothing to do with their achievements, either.
“She turns on TV, guess who she sees/ Skater boy rocking up MTV…he wasn’t good enough for her, now he’s a superstar…”
How much more might Martinez have been able to achieve if he had received our support, the kind he really needs – financial, enough to pay for his training with the best coaches at the best rinks using the best equipment?
Could he have learned the all-important quadruple jump, considered to be necessary to reach the highest ranks in men’s figure skating?
Given his light weight and flexibility, could Martinez even achieve the mythical quint?
As Martinez’s mother has said in many media interviews, they struggled financially to put Martinez through training and to provide him with the resources to compete abroad. Even the outfits Martinez wore were said to have been donated by a New York-based designer, after he appealed to be furnished with appropriate “Olympic attire.”
Martinez is not even looking forward to any cash rewards from the government.
At the moment the Palace says it is unsure whether or not a bonus can be awarded to Martinez for his historic performance, saying that they would wait for a recommendation from the Philippine Sports Commission.
However, the PSC’s direction is to prioritize sports where Filipinos have a distinct – or perceived – edge, such as boxing and swimming. Skating, not a tropical sport, is not among the priority sports.
It was a private sports patron, business mogul Manny V. Pangilinan, who announced that he would award a $10,000 bonus to Martinez.
Many Filipinos, indignant that Martinez has not received more assistance from the government, have begun crowdsourcing funds for his needs, like the “Piso Para Kay Michael” program on social media.
The government, be it the PSC or whatever appropriate body, should be flexible enough to identify athletes with potential to achieve, whether or not they are playing a priority sport. What more does Martinez have to do to convince them he needs state support?
After Sochi, Martinez’s new dream is to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Imagine what he can do with the help and support of an entire nation and its government behind him. In four more years of intense training with the best, his skills and technique will mature, and he’ll have a better chance to earn a medal.
If it takes the combined effort of 100 million Filipinos to send him to Pyeongchang, let’s do it, because he deserves it, and because he has proven he can do us proud.