The lack of financial support for some of our elite athletes is not news to me. But the title Filipino Winter Olympian’s family mortgaged home for ticket to Sochi prompted me to read the article. Michael Martinez’ story still struck a chord regardless of how often I’ve heard of similar stories.
I’ve always said that, in my book, all Olympians are already winners with or without the coveted medals. Qualifying in the Olympic Games takes grit. One can just imagine the sacrifices these athletes have to make and the unwavering commitment to sustain them when the going gets tough. The Olympians I personally know as well as those whose feats I follow on the news have long taught me that one doesn’t reach that level of skill without going through seemingly insurmountable challenges. Of course, the talent has to be there, but it doesn’t guarantee a slot in the quadrennial games. It’s the years of practice, hard work, and focus on a dream that ultimately get them there. That’s why I see Olympians as extraordinarily tenacious individuals.
I’ve kept track of news about Michael Martinez soon after he qualified for the Sochi Games. While I knew that we have competitive figure skaters under the Philippine Skating Union, I didn’t know that someone’s been actively vying for a slot in Sochi. The 17-year old Martinez managed to do just that. I watched his qualifying video and I was amazed by his performance. He may still not be at par with the top figure skaters in the world, but he’s brimming with potential. I was deeply moved by his performance despite the errors and flaws. Partly because I imagined the years of hard work he’s put into achieving that level of technical competence, flexibility, and grace. And also because I love the Romeo and Juliet theme.
Sadly though, Michael Martinez’ fund woes is not an isolated case. Being an elite athlete for what the government’s sports agency dubs as “non-priority sports” is exponentially harder. With limited budget and resources, it’s difficult for some athletes to chase the Olympic dream. Aspiring Olympians need money to pay for the salaries of the best foreign coaches. They need local coaches who ideally should also be supported to advance their skills and to be competitive with their foreign counterparts. They need a training facility solely for their use. They need foreign training where where they can hone their skills and the international competitions where they can compete with the best in their respective sport disciplines. To qualify for the Olympics, an athlete like Michael Martinez has to be supported with a strategic and well-funded training program.
I’m rooting for Michael Martinez not just because he’s the lone Filipino to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and the first one from Southeast Asia to do just that for figure skating. I’m rooting for him because he’s an inspiring figure that represents every Filipino athlete who has dared to chase the Olympic dream. I’m rooting for him because he deserves the spotlight for being an excellent role model to the Filipino people, especially the children he can inspire to create and pursue dreams of their own. Every time I see him, I see a young man who’s going all-out for his dream.
So whatever the outcome may be in Sochi, he’ll always be a winner to me.