WHEN Michael Christian Martinez left the Philippines last year, hardly anybody knew who he was.
Today, the lone boy who skated for a tropical country in the Sochi Winter Olympics came home to screaming fans and a large media crowd on Sunday afternoon that waited two hours for him to show up in an event arranged by the country's biggest mall.
Coming from a 13-hour flight, Martinez was escorted straight to the Mall of Asia where he was given a hero's welcome by SM Group of Companies, one of his earliest supporters.
“What I have done is really the same effort and commitment our other athletes have done in the Summer Olympics. I may be the first to make it in (the medal round of) the Winter Olympics, but I am not the first to represent our country in the world stage,” the soft-spoken Martinez said in his speech.
"I share this honor and glory with all the Filipino athletes."
Martinez said it was the thought that he was skating for his family and country that ran through his mind while he was performing on the qualifying rounds.
“Nasa isip ko, 'I’m doing this for God. I'm doing this for my family. I'm doing this for my country.' Nang sumablay ako I was like, 'No this can't be. I have to push harder and that's how I was able to nail the second hardest jump, the triple axel in the second part of the program,” he said.
From a field of 30 international figure skaters, Martinez scored a total of 184.25 points to qualify for the medal round. He eventually placed 19th overall, an impressive feat for a first-time Olympian and the only skater from Southeast Asia.
“Gulat na gulat sila. They would ask me, ‘You have ice skating rinks in the Philippines?,” Martinez recalled of athletes learning his country of origin.
Michael's mother Teresa said it was the ice rink that mattered, not where the athlete was from.
“Kaya niya. Our only target was to qualify into the medal round and he was able to do that and then he ended up 19th. Actually kaya niya pa ng mas mataas because his scores are really higher kaya lang that night kulang ang tulog niya e,” she said.
SM Prime Holdings president Hans Sy announced the SM Group was giving US$10,000 to Michael and lifetime free skating privileges in all SM ice skating rinks.
“We are very proud of Michael. He is a shining example of someone who saw no limits to what he can achieve. He has already inspired millions by following his dream and by competing in the Winter Olympics," Sy said.
Michael and his mom were accompanied to the event by officials of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).
Outside the cordoned area, mall-goers stopped to catch a glimpse of the hottest Philippine star on ice.
Shouts of “We love you, Michael” and “God bless you Michael!” rang throughout the proceedings.
Martinez was suddenly on the receiving end of a ‘rock star’ treatment as young fans clamored to get photos and autographs of the 17-year-old who was the youngest figure skater in his Olympic division.
Martinez's homecoming will be cut short since he is set to leave for the World Junior Figure Skating Championships on March 10-16 in Sofia, Bulgaria.