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Pinoy skater gears up for Winter Olympics amid fund woes

Michael Christian Martinez

MANILA, Philippines – Youthful Michael Christian Martinez, the first Filipino figure skater to qualify for the Winter Olympics, is aiming to make the most out of his training stint in Moscow to get ready for the tough battles ahead in the 2014 Games slated Feb. 6-13 in Sochi, Russia.

Faced with funding problems, the 17-year-old Martinez could only commence serious training last Dec. 30 at the Novogorsk Training Center, a 20-hectare facility with a winter sports center for ice skating and speed skating, among others.

Russian coach Victor Kudryavtsev oversees the training of the Pinoy teener, who will likely be the youngest and greenest competitor in men’s figure skating in the Winter Olympiad. Kudryavtsev used to coach Martinez’ technical mentor, 1988 Olympic champ Ilia Kulik, who couldn’t attend to the Filipino’s training due to show commitments. Michael had previously trained under Kudryavtsev in his visit to Manila and in a camp in Switzerland.

“Victor plans to train Michael at least 3-4 hours/day “on-ice” plus Michael’s own practices plus at least  one-hour “off-ice” training. We are hoping that we can get additional financial support so Michael can complete the needed  training here in Russia  as he has a lot of catching up to do,” said Martinez’ mother, Maria Teresa, in an email to the STAR from Russia.

Ranked fifth in the world in the juniors division, Michael Martinez netted a ticket to Sochi when he placed seventh in the Neblehorn Trophy Tournament in Germany last September. However, given the sport’s high-maintenance, Teresa said financial assistance from the Philippine Olympic Committee, Philippine Skating Union, and SM was already used up both in training and in a five-competition sojourn that included the Olympic-qualifying tourney.

“After Michael won the Olympic spot on Sept. 28, he could not train completely due to serious lack of funds, and therefore he had lost so much valuable training time,” lamented his mother.

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Last month, supporters from a zumba group in the US, Michael’s Metro Ice skating club and another local club in the Philippines, some of his FB friends, and ShoeMart helped raise funds for his pre-Sochi training. The POC is also looking for a private sponsor to add to the warchest while the Philippine Sports Commission could only commit US$7,200.

“He still has one more international competition prior to the Olympics and that’s another $9,000 funds needed, another burden but he needs a warm-up competition prior to the Olympics since his last competition was last November yet,” said Teresa.

Martinez will be facing rivals who have been skating even before he was born, like three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada, 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi  of Japan, Euro titlist lorent Amodio of France and US national titlist  national champion Max Aaron.  Teresa said they expect Michael to blossom by the next editions of the Winter Games yet.

“Given the situation, Michael’s best hope as of now is to be in the top 24 (in the 2014 Games) and to be able to qualify in the freeskate/final event ,” said Teresa. “The best skaters in each qualified country are expected to be competing in Sochi.   Most of them  are veteran skaters  and  supported by their government and/or  skating  Federations,  thus it will be a very , very tough competition for Michael,  who is expected to be the youngest and the least experienced among the  Men’s  group .”

“If  our  government will  fully support him in the next 4 years leading to the 2018 Winter Olympics  (or if there will be a Filipino company who will be willing to sponsor him) , then he can  be a medal contender in  the 2018 Olympics, but not  this 2014,” added the Martinez matriarch.

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