Canada's Patrick Chan befriends young Filipino figure skater
Michael Christian Martinez of the Philippines competes in the men's short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 13, 2014 12:54PM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 14, 2014 9:27AM EST
SOCHI, Russia -- Michael Christian Martinez used to study Canada's Patrick Chan on YouTube.
In Sochi, the Filipino teen got the real deal.
The 17-year-old figure skater is the lone member of the Philippines Olympic team, and because he and Chan were the first two skaters to arrive in Sochi, they found themselves alone together during several practice sessions.
The Toronto skater befriended the Martinez, gave him some pointers and even invited him to dinner.
"It felt really great," Martinez said, with a big grin. "I feel like a champion because I'm skating with Patrick Chan, and I feel like a world champion also. . . the way he skated, the way his edges are, I was trying to copy him but I couldn't.
"He gave me some knowledge because before I was just watching him on YouTube. Now I can see how he really does bend his knees (etc.). . ."
Whatever instruction Chan provided certainly helped. On Thursday, Martinez finished 19th in the men's short and qualified for Friday's long program. Chan, a three-time world champion, was second in the short.
Chan, 23, had dinner with Martinez at the athletes village one night.
"He actually told me that I was official Canadian team (member)," Martinez said, laughing. "He was really friendly and kind. I really liked him. Surprisingly (nice) for a world champion.
"He congratulated me that I'm the lone Olympian for the Philippines."
Martinez's story in Sochi has captured the hearts of the people back home in the Philippines, where his face has been splashed across newspapers and television broadcasts.
The Philippines has never won a winter Olympic medal, and as the country's lone entry, Martinez also carried the flag in the opening ceremonies.
His mom, Maria Teresa Martinez, was in the crowd at the Iceberg Skating Palace top watch him compete in the men's short almost three hours before the top-ranked men -- including Chan -- were scheduled to take the ice.
Martinez, the first Olympic figure skater from Southeast Asia, was born in Paranaque City and took up the sport after seeing people skating at a mall -- one of just three rinks in the Philippines, where it never snows.
He moved to Los Angeles to train for four months before travelling to Sochi, his mom telling CNN the family had to scrape the money together to send him through donations from friends, his skating club, and the shopping mall ice rink.
Maria also said she'd had to mortgage their home to finance his Olympic dream, adding the family's farm in Luzon province had been damaged by typhoons last year.
Martinez didn't look out of place Thursday night in his performance to Romeo and Juliet; his only major misstep was a two-foot landing on a triple toe loop.
"I was happy with my performance, I just missed the one jump," he said.
"I was really happy that everybody (back in the Philippines) is getting to know me, and they're now supporting me and praying for me for this competition."