It’s a Monday afternoon, 34°C outside, a typical scorching summer’s day in Manila.
Figure skater Michael Christian Martinez, the country’s “ice prince” and representative to the 2014 Winter Olympics, waits patiently in a well-lit room while photographer Miguel prepares his equipment for the shoot. Makeup artist Sid puts last-minute touches on Michael, who strikes a conversation with everyone in the room.
He pinches his shirt while fanning fans himself with a small piece of cloth that somehow gives him a bit of comfort from the heat.
Despite the soaring temperature, he is all smiles—his joyful expression brightening the mood and atmosphere.
“We’re going live on Facebook and Instagram, is that fine?”
He purses his lips, looks at me with excitement in his eyes, and nods: “Sure, sige.”
Even in the punishing heat, Michael says it feels great to be back home. Wearing street fashion, the 20-year-old athlete puts on his game face before the camera for his To be You shoot.
He was in town recently on a short break from rigorous training and series of competitions early this year: the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games and, most recently, the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships held in Helsinki, Finland.
Television tapings, press conferences and meet-and-greets were packed into his schedule. He says he feels more than grateful for every opportunity that comes his way.
The day before this shoot, he hung out with fellow “Yuri On Ice” fans. “Thank you so much for coming yesterday and taking pictures with me,” says Michael, addressing viewers on To Be You’s Facebook livestream. “It was really fun.”
Apart from being half Japanese, Michael can relate to “Yuri On Ice,” a sports anime TV series on the life of Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki, for obvious reasons.
But curiously, one of the show’s characters, Yuri’s fellow competitor Phichit, was inspired by Michael.
“That’s what they say, Phichit’s character was inspired by me. It’s so funny when I watch Phichit, I see myself,” he says.
Fans, social media followers and even old friends have commented on his friendly demeanor. As a former competitive figure skater, I’ve seen it myself: when he speaks and moves, I see the Michael I used to skate, compete and interact with years ago—except that he’s all grown up now. He’s always been grounded, even with all the attention he gets.
These days, he eats, sleeps and breathes skating.
Michael was 9 years old when he first learned how to skate
—as a form of exercise and to recuperate from asthmatic bronchitis. The cold atmosphere had a positive effect on his health, and he kept on skating to the point that he developed a strong love of the sport.
“I train every day, around four hours on ice, and two hours of off-ice training, which includes going to the gym,” says Michael, who’s now based in California. “I usually focus on one group of exercises per day. I also spend one hour running with my husky.”
His coach is former Ukranian Olympian Vyacheslav “Slava” Zagorodnyuk.
Michael is gearing up for a competition in July in Anaheim, California. The Southeast Asian Games follows in August, and in September, the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the second qualifying event for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Only the top six skaters will earn a spot at the Games, and Michael is more than determined to bag a place.
Topmost in his favorite jumps or spins is “a triple Axel,” Michael says with conviction.
I nod in agreement, because Michael has always been a jumper.
He adds: “I’ll be doing Quads.” It’s a move in which a skater jumps and spins a total of four revolutions on air.
“Also, for my programs, I’m doing something completely new. In fact, I was thinking of doing Philippine music,” he points out.
When Michael’s 2014 Winter Olympics “kiss and cry moment” came on TV, he happily waved his jacket with the name “Philippines” emblazoned on its backside while waiting for his technical scores to be revealed.
He has been representing the country in international competitions since 2005—truly a proud Filipino.
When he’s not on the ice, Michael likes to unwind by taking photos and videos (he has a YouTube account where he uploads his adventures), sketching, playing airsoft and hiking.
Michael has a photography account on Instagram (@mikefrost3) where he shows his artistically shot and edited photos. “It’s all self-taught,” he proudly says.
“I’ve been doing photography on the side since 2014 when my sister gave me her old camera. Last year, I switched to a different brand and just kept upgrading. I also like to take aerial shots.”
Fans can’t help but notice his fit form, particularly his six-pack abs, which were revealed in a shirtless photo of himself that has gone viral.
Does he follow a strict diet? “I stick to grilled food, no seasoning. I eat bread or cereal in the morning, and I usually work on one area a day.”
Michael also often posts photos of him and his dog, Mr. Ichiban. “November ko siya nakuha, for my birthday. When I saw Ichiban, sabi ko, wow, nag-connect na kami. Super kulit niya.”
Love life? I ask teasingly. “Wala e. Single,” he smiles coyly.
Romance is not the priority, as he’s focused on ice skating as a career. “Oo, focus. Priorities first. Before, I tried [balancing it]. Nasaktan lang ako. Kaya para sa akin, skating na lang. At si Ichiban.” We laugh.
When the dust settles on Michael’s skating activities next year, what’s his next step?
“I’m planning to go back to school after the 2018 Olympics, hopefully take up business law. I’ll take it from there,” he says.
He’s also optimistic about the future: “I have tons of big plans and I’m very excited to do them and realize more of my dreams.”
On his Instagram account, Michael shared a photo of himself seated under a banner of Olympic rings. Making it to the 2014 Winter Olympics and being the first Southeast Asian skater to do so is one of the most memorable and inspiring moments of his career.
“I’ve sacrificed almost everything. I’ve dedicated so much to this sport, and it all paid off,” he says.
As the interview and shoot end, the sun is about to set, leaving blazing colors of hope and triumph in the city skyline. —CONTRIBUTED
Photography Miguel Alomajan Styling Luis Carlo San Juan Grooming and Hairstyle Syd Helmsley