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Shoma Uno, in a trying figure skating season, considered leaving the ice

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There are two lasting images of Shoma Uno from the abbreviated figure skating season.

There is Uno, the Olympic silver medalist, hunched over, alone and without a coach, in the kiss-and-cry after the worst Grand Prix performance of his career in France on Nov. 2. He fell five times between two programs and finished ninth — 81.32 points behind Nathan Chen. Uno said he was in tears not because of his skating, but because of the ovation the crowd gave him to boost his spirits.

Then, on Dec. 22, Uno is half-crying, half-smiling. Yuzuru Hanyu is shaking him by the shoulders. Uno had just beaten Hanyu for the first time in his career, at the Japanese Championships no less.

Some time that autumn, Uno, now 22, gave thought to withdrawing from competitions and taking a break from the sport. He said this in a TV interview translated by a YouTube user. Uno’s manager confirmed the English subtitles to be “fairly correct.”

“The only difference is that the idea was never from him,” Uno’s manager said in an email. “It was presented from those people around him.”

Uno is the greatest male skater of his generation, perhaps ever, to not win an Olympic or world title (though he still has plenty of time). Competing against the two greatest jumpers in history — Chen and Hanyu — he has finished second or third on seven occasions among the Olympics, world championships and Grand Prix Final.

Uno, after leaving his career-long coaches last offseason, dropped from that echelon in the Grand Prix season.

“It’s true that, talking with many people, I considered quitting skating, but after delivering such a terrible performance, I didn’t have anything to lose anymore, so I just wanted to enjoy skating,” Uno said in the TV interview, according to the subtitles reviewed by his manager, though it was unclear the exact timing of the skater’s thoughts. “I talked to my family, and if skating causes me such distress, if it’s hard for me now, taking a break could be an option.

“We discussed a lot, but I felt that I wanted to skate and enjoy it, even if it meant delivering a similar performance again. I wanted to skate with all my might. I wanted to start over, to try one more time.”

After Grand Prix France, Uno finished fourth at Rostelecom Cup in Russia. After making the podium of all 12 of his Grand Prix starts to open his career, he was off of it in two straight. Uno, who had already worked some with 2006 Olympic silver medalist Stephane Lambiel, announced that the Swiss would be his official coach.

At Japanese Nationals just before Christmas, Uno erased a five-point deficit to Hanyu from the short program to prevail by 7.8 points. He limited the jumping errors, just one negatively graded pass between two programs, including five quads. Hanyu was less clean, falling on a triple Axel in his free.

“It was not my best skate, but I feel like I really enjoyed it,” Uno said then, according to the Japan Times. “I have had a really hard time this season and finally could enjoy the training and competition for the first time in a while. If everyone skates their best, the result should be different.”

Uno had for years felt inferior to the two-time Olympic champion Hanyu, who is three years older and six inches taller. Most other skaters must have felt the same, but Uno is a unique case being a countryman in the most popular skating nation.

“I’ve always wanted to win against Hanyu once, even just once, so even though I didn’t think it was actually possible, that goal motivated me,” he said, according to the English translation of the TV interview. “I’d even be OK with losing 100 times if I could win at least once.”

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MORE: Takeaways from abbreviated figure skating season

Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup plans earlier season start with fewer fans

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