Olympic skater’s mother clarifies financial aid from gov’t

Chiara Mapa - The Philippine Star

MOSCOW – Maria Teresa Martinez, mother of figure skater Michael Christian Martinez who competed in the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, has communicated her gratitude to all those who helped and supported her son.

In a letter sent to The STAR yesterday, Mrs. Martinez clarified reports regarding the absence of financial assistance from the government.

One of the youngest competitors in the Olympics, 17-year-old Michael placed 19th with a final score of 184.25 points Friday at the Iceberg Skating Palace.

The Men’s Figure Skating gold medal was won by Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu with 290.09 points. Silver went to Canada’s Patrick Chan (275.62) and bronze to Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten (255.10).

The Muntinlupa native, who is also the first Southeast Asian skater to compete in the Winter Olympics, was third to perform out of the 24 who made the cut from the field of 30 skaters.

Mrs. Martinez said that on Oct. 27, 2013, she had sent an email message to the Office of the President, requesting direction on how she could inform President Aquino of her son Michael’s qualification in the 2014 Winter Games and their dire need of government financial support. 

The message was sent to the email address <[email protected]> as posted on the official website of the President’s office (a copy of this message was also forwarded to The STAR yesterday).

The athlete’s mother had also forwarded the same message to three other officials of the Philippine News Agency, to email addresses posted on their website’s “Contact” page.

She had no doubt that if President Aquino had received the message, he would certainly push for government compensation for the boy’s participation in the Sochi Olympics. 

On Dec. 9, in an interview with freelance reporter Simone Orendaine, Mrs. Martinez had expressed her doubts on whether her message had reached its intended recipient since it had been more than a month and she had not received a reply.

“For one reason or another,” she writes, “I believe my letters did not reach the President himself.”

Her comment, “I don’t even think anyone at the President’s office knows there’s a Filipino skating in the Olympics” was published online by the Catholic Register on Jan. 15, 2014 and has since gone viral, provoking criticism against the Philippine government.

But the comment was made during the Dec. 9, 2013 interview and not on the date that it was published online, more than a month later.

Private sector assistance

She, however, continued to seek assistance through other channels while focusing on Michael’s training for the Sochi games.

“We are truly thankful to Shoemart (SM), to the Philippine Skating Union, and to the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) for their help,” she said. 

Unknown to many, the POC is a private agency. A lot of confusion has risen in recent days due to the assumption that the POC is a branch of the government.

Michael, through the help of the POC, was able to obtain a scholarship from the International Olympic Committee’s Solidarity Scholarship Fund. As such, he is entitled to $1,500 a month for eight months, until February 2014. That includes the $500 fee for the athlete’s coach. According to reports, the POC has already delivered the stipend from July to October, while the balance has yet to be given.

Mrs. Martinez is grateful to the SM Investment Corp. for their financial support. Since May 2013, Michael received P150,000 from SM for 10 months. 

Although this might seem like a big amount, the skater’s mother said that it is still a far cry from what is needed to cover all the expenses in the very expensive sport of figure skating.

“From SM we are getting about $111 a day. That is already a big help but it is still not enough since, when we train in the US, we spend at least $400 a day just to cover the coaches’ fees ($100-$150/hour) and $40 for ice rink time ($10-16/ hour). That amount is just not enough to prepare an athlete for the Olympics. And it takes many years of training to be in the Olympics,  not just 10 months,” she clarified.

She said that there are also additional expenses for international competitions. 

In 2013 alone, Michael participated in nine competitions in Europe and the US. 

After the Sochi games, Michael will proceed to Moscow where he will be preparing for the 2014 ISU Junior World Championships. The expenses for his preparation period at the Novogorsk Training Center in Moscow exceed $420 a day just for coaching fees, excluding accommodation expenses. 

Aid from the Philippine Sports Commission

Mrs. Martinez said that they had finally received from the Philippine Sports Commission the pledged $50 daily allowance or $1,200 for 24 days for Michael’s sojourn in Sochi, delivered by POC executive secretary Gina Calaguas last Feb. 13.

She confirmed that Calaguas had also given $7,200 directly to Michael’s Russian coach Viktor Kudryavtsev on that same date, as payment for his coaching duties while in Sochi  (covering the period Jan. 30 to the end of February). 

Kudryavtsev, though, has been training the Filipino since the end of December and will continue to do so until the last days of March.

Mrs. Martinez said when Michael decided to take up figure skating seriously, they were aware of the sacrifices she would have to make to continue to support her son’s costly sport. 

Michael started skating in 2005 but he only started to compete internationally in 2009. Since then, his family has been covering costs of his training and competitions, which led to the Sochi Olympics. 

Although the name “Michael Christian Martinez” has been introduced to most Filipinos only recently, the young skater has been bringing honor to the country with his victories in his past international competitions. To date, Michael has won 19 medals and will go down in history as being the first ever figure skater from Southeast Asia to compete in the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics and in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. 

Mrs. Martinez recalls, “For the Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012, Michael was a clear medal contender since he placed 3rd in the Short program. But he lost and placed only 7th in the finals. I know he could have won if we had money for him to train more. Since we couldn’t afford to pay for his technical coach, I was just the one who acted as his coach.”

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