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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