Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan parted ways with his longtime coaches at the end of last season and began the current season coachless. After disastrous performances on the Grand Prix circuit, he missed qualifying for the Final for the first time in his senior career.
In December, he announced that he would be coached by Stephane Lambiel, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion, in Switzerland. Uno’s next major competition is expected to be March’s world championships.
Lambiel spoke with NBC Sports about his new pupil. This interview has been edited for clarity.
How have you found Shoma since he joined your school?
Shoma has super physical talents. He is very conscious of what he wants to do and what he needs to do. That may be one of the reasons why he thought he could work without a coach. He really takes responsibility for his skating. What he needs is just a frame to learn.
Why didn’t his plan to compete without a coach succeed?
He spent several months listening to his own consciousness without having any feedback. You may be a great painter and have plenty of new ideas, but you still need a frame to paint onto. Doing everything altogether is just too difficult.
My goal with him will be to set up a frame that will allow him to learn, repeat and do what he needs to do.
You’ve known Shoma for quite some time.
I’ve been working with him since 2012 or 2013. I met him for the first time in 2012, at the Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck. I’ve been giving a summer camp for the Japanese National Team every year since. I’ve seen him grow and develop. Later, I’ve been skating shows with him. I’ve seen his personality, his potential, his way of working. That has allowed to develop a good connection between the two of us.
Your own artistic flair has made you an expert. What do you look to bring out in Shoma’s artistic side?
Shoma radiates an incredible emotional aura as soon as he steps on the ice. He is exceptional in that respect.
I lived through Japan Nationals with him. In his eyes I found both serenity and a unique wealth. His expression radiates a very strong emotional form, a quiet force that makes audiences vibrate. It comes quite naturally to Shoma, although I’m not sure he is conscious of it. He is very musical, and has quite a natural fluidity in his movement.
[Editor’s note: Shoma Uno won his fourth Japanese national title in December]
How do you evaluate his technical prowess?
Shoma loves challenge. You can see that already when he practices. When you give him a plan for the day, he’ll always try to surpass it. Teaching to such a student is a privilege.
At the same time, he is very conscious of his own limits. After a few days surpassing himself, he’ll come tell you right away that he needs to take it easier. He knows how to push himself, but he knows also how to balance his effort. That’s unusual at his young age.
Do you plan on adding new quads to his programs?
Yes. David Wilson [who choreographs Uno’s free skate] came to Switzerland a few weeks ago to refine the details of his free program in this direction. Adding a quad changes the timing, the trajectory for the jump, his concentration. Right now, we have entered the repetition process, so that the program become automatic. Our work is progressing well towards Worlds. Shoma will always be able to switch back to the program he skated at Japan Nationals, of course. The more options he has, the better. Everything will be [decided] on the day anyway. But you can be sure that he’ll go grasp the challenge.
Which quad are you planning to add?
We’re working on the Lutz, but not quad yet. He still needs to work to find the right direction. He rotates his four turns without a problem, and he’ll land quad Lutz when he finds the right way to pass the left part of his body.
In fact, we’re working more on quad loop, to make it more regular at the moment. A loop is an edge jump, and many skaters can’t achieve quad loop, even among the very best. Contrary to many others, Shoma manages to gain speed on an edge. He already skates really fast, and he even gains speed while he is on edge, which even Nathan [Chen] can’t do. I must say that his size is also quite an advantage, as he can find his balance more easily.
How do you see him in the long run?
Shoma will bring his unique personality and his emotion. He is really strong in lyrical skating. Or even in his short program. He has such a warm energy. When you watch him skate, you can feel there is a fire within him. His technique will keep improving, and we’ll try to bring him to a level where he can express his personality.
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