Michael Christian Martinez: As cool as ice
A figure-skating pioneer in his homeland, the Filipino athlete and Winter Youth Olympian is back for his second Olympic bow in PyeongChang.
The Philippines has little tradition in winter sports. The average year-round temperature in the Pacific nation is 27˚C (80˚F), and snow is unheard of. However, there are several ice rinks in the country – and it was at one of them that Michael Christian Martinez was introduced to the sport of figure skating.
Shopping, then skating
Martinez was eight years old in 2005 when he first saw skaters at a shopping-mall ice rink in Manila, the country's capital. Fascinated by the skaters performing spins and jumps on the ice, he asked his mother if he could have a go. Within a year he was competing internationally, winning a low-level competition in Singapore.
His country's climate isn't the only hurdle Martinez has had to overcome. Throughout his life, Martinez has suffered from serious asthma: he was a regular visitor to the hospital as a child, and his condition meant he was unable to compete in outdoor sports such as basketball and football. However, he can manage his condition for figure skating, and has shown immense determination to reach his world-class level today.
An Olympic debut
Martinez's march towards the top began in 2012 at the age of 15, when he became one of only two Filipino athletes to compete at the first Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Innsbruck. He finished a fine seventh in the men's singles event, signalling the start of his steady rise through the ranks.
The following season brought both highs and lows. In November 2012, just weeks after his 16th birthday, Martinez won his first senior event, the Crystal Skate of Romania. Three months later, he finished a strong fifth in the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships – but then his season as derailed when he fractured his ankle in training.
Within two months, though, Martinez was back on the ice, working hard to qualify for his first Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. A seventh-place finish at a qualifier in Germany won him that treasured Olympic berth – and in February 2014, he became the first figure skater from South-East Asia and just the fifth Filipino athlete in history to compete at an Olympic Winter Games. He even had the honour of carrying his country's flag at the Opening Ceremony.
Back at the Games
Four years on, still aged only 21, Martinez is in PyeongChang to compete at his second Games, where he is hoping to at least match his performance in Sochi, when he qualified for the free skating round and finished inside the top 20. And perhaps Martinez's pioneering career will lead to more Filipino athletes following in his footsteps at future Games.
The men's singles figure skating begins on Friday 16 February.