Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

A first for Southeast Asia: An Olympic figure skater

February 14, 2014 -- Updated 0845 GMT (1645 HKT)
There are 88 countries participating at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but some countries are only sending one athlete. One is the Philippines, represented solely by 17 year-old skater Michael Christian Martinez, a talented teen who has overcome asthma to qualify for the Games. There are 88 countries participating at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but some countries are only sending one athlete. One is the Philippines, represented solely by 17 year-old skater Michael Christian Martinez, a talented teen who has overcome asthma to qualify for the Games.
HIDE CAPTION
Philippines
Bermuda
British Virgin Islands
Hong Kong
Nepal
Mexico
Tonga
Paraguay
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Teenage from the Philippines is first Olympic figure skater from southeast Asia
  • Michael Christian Martinez started skating at age 8 at public rink
  • He has had just two months of full training because of financial factors

Hong Kong (CNN) -- A Philippine teenager with a shy, crooked smile and expressive eyebrows -- who also happens to be the first figure skater ever to represent a Southeast Asian country -- qualified for the free skate after his performance on Thursday.

Michael Christian Martinez, the lone athlete for the Philippines, is an unlikely competitor from a country without snow.

Catapulted into the limelight after qualifying last year, his entire home country, which has never won a medal in the Winter Olympics, is rooting for him.

On Thursday, he finished 19th overall with a total segment score of 64.81 which means he'll move on to Friday's final free skate.

Philippines\' flag bearer, Michael Christian Martinez, leads his national delegation during the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Philippines' flag bearer, Michael Christian Martinez, leads his national delegation during the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

"I'd love to qualify for the free skate [top 24]; that would be a big accomplishment for me," Martinez, 17, said in an interview with NBCOlympics.com prior to the competition.

"I don't know what placement I'll get because my training is so different, but we'll see."

It's likely to be a David-versus-Goliath match-up. Facing medal favorites such as Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu and Canada's Patrick Chan, who rank first and second after the short program, Martinez has not benefited from the same intensive training as many of his competitors.

Maria Teresa Martinez, his mother, said her son had full training for two months before arriving in Sochi because of difficulties funding his Olympic aspirations.

Ice skating is a costly endeavor with expenses for travel, equipments and coaches.

His mother told CNN in an email that the family patched together donations from a local shopping mall ice rink, friends and his skating club. She said the family's life saving has been depleted and that their family's farm in Luzon province had been damaged by typhoons last year.

If Martinez hadn't qualified for the Olympics in 2013, he would've had to quit competitive skating because his family couldn't afford it, his mother added.

"Now that he qualified, we are hoping we can finally get support so he can continue, and try to qualify again in 2018, where he will be more matured and more ready physically and mentally," she wrote.

Regardless of how he fares this week, Martinez has come a long way.

Sochi's massive overspend
Canadian speed skater Hamelin takes gold
Shopping for Olympic souvenirs in Sochi
No halfpipe medal for Shaun White

Born in Paranaque City, Martinez was stricken with asthmatic bronchitis at two months old. As a young boy, he struggled with sports because of his asthma attacks.

"I couldn't take up any sport. I tried outdoor sports when I was younger, but I easily got asthma attacks so I stopped," he said in his Sochi Olympic athletes profile.

"I had asthma maintenance medicine when I started skating, since the cold in the rink makes me sick too. But year after year, my health keeps improving, so my mother fully supported me to continue skating. She said it's better to spend the money on skating than in the hospital."

He got his first glimpse of skating after going to a shopping mall with his mother at age 8. He became mesmerized when he saw skaters spinning and jumping.

By age 12, he was competing in European junior competitions and winning gold without a coach, his mother said.

In 2010, he began training in the United States with coaches including John Nicks and Ilia Kulik, she said.

Martinez splits his time between Manila and Los Angeles.

In 2013, he came in fifth at the world Junior Championships in Milan. He is currently ranked 30th by the International Skating Union.

Martinez does not have a dedicated practice rink in the Philippines and has to use a public one, his mother said. In late January, Martinez nursed an inflamed knee, saying it was likely caused by skating on rough ice, according to an interview with Catholic News Service.

Martinez' social media accounts show a smile-prone teenager flashing peace signs in photographs and having the time of his life in Sochi.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
February 24, 2014 -- Updated 1705 GMT (0105 HKT)
With the Olympic cauldron now extinguished, CNN takes a look at whether Russia's $50 billion Sochi budget was money well spent.
February 24, 2014 -- Updated 1440 GMT (2240 HKT)
The athletes on show in Sochi provided moments of drama and destiny that captured the imagination and settled in the collective memory.
February 24, 2014 -- Updated 1615 GMT (0015 HKT)
Russia may have topped the medals table at the first Winter Olympics it staged, but which country was most successful per capita?
February 24, 2014 -- Updated 1648 GMT (0048 HKT)
From eye-popping helmet designs to F1-influenced bobsleigh, the Sochi offered a bewildering array of technological innovation.
February 24, 2014 -- Updated 1146 GMT (1946 HKT)
Sochi's closing ceremony took an artistic look at Russian culture before the Olympic flag was handed over to South Korea for the 2018 Games.
February 23, 2014 -- Updated 1857 GMT (0257 HKT)
Critics say it would have been cheaper to coat this Russian road with caviar but will the route made for Sochi reap long-term rewards?
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Navigate your way around this spectacular 360-degree picture from Sochi's ski-jumping venue at the Winter Olympics -- and find out how it was created.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1045 GMT (1845 HKT)
Sochi's transformation has left even the local cab drivers a bit lost and confused -- but don't let that put you off visiting this rejuvenated Black Sea resort.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Australia's silver medalist Torah Bright celebrates during the Women's Snowboard Halfpipe Medal Ceremony at the Sochi medals plaza during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 13, 2014.
What do you get if you mix Valentine's Day, thousands of good-looking young Olympians and a popular online dating app?
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1211 GMT (2011 HKT)
For a Winter Olympics, there are some very colorful characters from some very tropical climates taking part -- including this "Mariachi" skier.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
If snowboarders were an introduction to a younger, hipper, "slacker" generation of Olympians, the next wave has taken it to another level.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
He didn't like carpets, he banned portraits and he walked in water rather than swim. Welcome to Joseph Stalin's dacha.
February 13, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
ebanon's Jackie Chamoun skis during the Women's Giant slalom first run at the 2013 Ski World Championships in Schladming, Austria on February 14, 2013.
Like most skiers in Sochi, Jacky Chamoun had hoped to cause a stir on the slopes rather than off them.
February 12, 2014 -- Updated 1014 GMT (1814 HKT)
A prop from the Winter Olympics opening ceremony.
It has been dubbed Russia's Las Vegas. But has Sochi's massive renovation come at a cost to the region's stunning natural environment?
February 23, 2014 -- Updated 1733 GMT (0133 HKT)
Take a different look at Sochi 2014 as CNN showcases the most compelling images from the world's best photographers.
ADVERTISEMENT