GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Filipino figure skater Michael Martinez had other plans for February after narrowly missing the cut for the Olympics at a qualifier last year. In fact, he’d hung up his skates for good and turned to body building instead.
“I was seventh out of six of us supposed to be going,” he told reporters after his short skate on Friday. “I was like, you know what, it’s time to put up my skates and I’m retired and everything. So I didn’t skate at all.”
Then, on Jan. 23, the call came - a place had opened up since Swedish skater Alexander Mojorov’s national committee had returned his spot.
“They told me Michael, you’re going. I was like, no way,” he said, and hastily resumed training as hard as he could.
“I honestly don’t know how I was able to do it and get all my jumps back. For every skater that you ask, if they weren’t able to skate for that long, they usually take two to three months to get the jumps back,” he added.
“But I was able to do everything - you know, not the best, not the same as before.”
He also began crash dieting, since he’d bulked up to 75 kilograms (165 lbs) from his usual skating weight of 66 kg because of his body building.
“When I got back on the ice it was so different, because it’s like different muscles, completely different. I had to lose my muscle, I had to lose my weight,” he said. “I did not eat.”
Seven kilograms lighter, he arrived in Pyeongchang for his second Olympic games after Sochi in 2014.
It had been a hard struggle to get that far in a country where the yearly annual temperature averages 27 degrees Celsius and rinks are few and far between.
In fact, Martinez, 21, did not start skating until the age of eight - at a shopping mall rink. Even when he began skating seriously one rink he used had a large pole in the center that meant “you were just skating around and around. It was very difficult.”
He said he was satisfied with his skate, in which he cleanly landed a triple Axel and several other triples, though with a score of 55.56 he won’t pose a medal threat.
Even more important to Martinez is how skating has advanced in his country since he went to Sochi, with hockey teams and speed skating gaining ground. There are now four Olympic-sized rinks.
“People were saying you’re from the Philippines, it’s a tropical country,” he said. “I said you know what, it doesn’t matter. So when I did Sochi I was able to open the door and open their eyes.”
Martinez is not the only Southeast Asian competing in figure skating this year, having been joined by Julian Zhi Je Yee of Malaysia.
“I’m really happy about this,” he said. “That a lot of Southeast Asians are working hard and able to be at the Olympics.”
Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Sudipto Ganguly