Shoma Uno
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Shoma Uno’s new coach Stephane Lambiel gives insight into skater’s renewed focus

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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.

MORE: In figure skating, a radical proposal to reshape the sport

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”