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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.

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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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Montreal coaches on what makes American ice dance teams great

Three U.S. ice dance teams train together in Montreal
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“Sometimes it’s hard to see them compete against one another,” Marie-France Dubreuil said as she watched her pupils at the French leg of the Grand Prix season in November.

The top three U.S. ice dance couples train at the Montreal school that she manages with Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer: Madison Chock and Evan Bates, 2015 U.S. champions; Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, two-time U.S. champions and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who made their first nationals podium last year.

They are again the medal favorites at this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C., after which the three-couple team for March’s world championships will be named. It’s quite rare, in any country, for the top three teams in one discipline to share coaches.

“They are very different from one another,” said Lauzon, who with Dubreuil earned world silver medals in dance for Canada in 2006 and 2007. “I don’t compare them. That’s one of the bases of our coaching. Each team competes against itself. Our goal is to try finding the best version of each one of them. We work on both their qualities and their faults.”

The Montreal school swept the podium at December’s Grand Prix Final — France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron followed by Chock and Bates then Hubbell and Donohue. Montreal has seemingly become the place to be in ice dance.

The third American dance couple, Hawayek and Baker, qualified for their first Grand Prix Final last year in their first season under Dubreuil, Lauzon, and Haguenauer.

“Kaitlin and Jean-Luc need to take their own place,” Haguenauer said. “They are an atypical dance team. They may be less tall than other teams, but the way they cover the ice is just as brilliant. it’s amazing. We’re working to bring them to their very best level: you know, excellence is made of details. Our sport judges dancing and skating, but also the aesthetics and the impression skaters radiate on the ice. Those impact directly a performance.”

As Hawayek and Baker moved to Montreal after the 2017-18 season, so did Chock and Bates. They joined the Montreal school during 10 months away from competition, as Chock was recovering from an ankle injury that required surgery.

This season, Chock and Bates had their best Grand Prix results in four years. They could become the first skater, pair or dance couple to go five or more years between national titles since the 1920s.

“[Chock and Bates] allowed us to put them in discomfort, so that we could help them crack the mold they were into,” Dubreuil said. “Evan is tall and powerful. We tried to help him be more aligned with his blade-to-ice contacts, more controlled. Both are hyper-elegant. So, we tried to free the machine and let it go.”

Bates continued the metaphor in an interview with NBC Olympics Research.

“I think it’s one of those instances where you bang on the glass ceiling for a while and then it finally breaks and then you get through,” he said regarding the duo’s success since their move. He also called the fact that they were headed to Greensboro for nationals, the site of their championship title in 2015, “poetic.”

When Hubbell and Donohue moved to Montreal in 2015, Dubrueil said the aim was to make them look “classier and more sophisticated.” They went from finishing third or fourth at four straight nationals to earning world championships medals in 2018 (silver) and 2019 (bronze).

“When you see their results, they’re always at the top after they’ve been down,” Haguenauer said. That was the case after worlds in 2016, or after the Olympics. When things are going too smoothly, they have more difficulties.”

Hubbell said in a media teleconference last week this season is different from others because they spent more of the summer “brainstorming” their programs. They also waited longer to debut than in previous seasons.

“This year is a very competitive season with a lot of teams that seem to be all chasing after those top spots,” she added. “We worked quite hard before [December’s Grand Prix] Final knowing that everybody would skate really great performances. We wanted to make sure to end up on the podium. It was great to be up there. It was the first time we’ve been able to share an entirely [Montreal-coached] podium at a major event. That’s a really special feeling for everyone on the team.”

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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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Alina Zagitova pushes artistry while younger Russians focus on jumping prowess

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Russia’s Alina Zagitova, the 2018 Olympic gold medalist and 2019 world champion, has been under intense scrutiny since winning in PyeongChang some 21 months ago. No doubt she will be again when she skates at NHK Trophy (this weekend, live and on-demand for NBC Sports Gold subscribers).

Her last outing, at Grand Prix France, was no exception. Zagitova placed second, some 19.94 points behind 16-year-old Alena Kostornaia, her training partner at the Sambo-70 school in Moscow lead by coach Eteri Tutberidze.

Kostornaia is capable of two triple Axels in a free skate. Anna Shcherbakova is capable of two quad Lutzes in a free skate. Alexandra Trusova is capable of a quad Salchow, quad Lutz, and quad toe. She attempted four in her winning Rostelecom Cup free skate.

Talk has swirled on social media and in the press, as audiences wonder if Zagitova may experience the feeling of being pushed out by younger, more technically acute skaters. Zagitova won Olympic gold by defeating older training partner Yevgenia Medvedeva, then a nearly undefeated two-time world champion. But a year ago, Zagitova lost the European championship to another young Russian, Sofia Samodurova (coached by Alexei Mishin). Zagitova managed to bounce back to win the World title two months later.

Zagitova is not ready to admit that the wheel of fortune was turning too fast for her, however.

“I also was one of these junior skaters who did all their jumps with a hand above their heads,” she said after Grand Prix France. “I was one who did their jumps in the second half of their program, because it gave you more points. I was even the first one to land a triple Lutz, triple loop combination, also in the second half. Rules have changed since, what can I do?”

At the same time, she genuinely acknowledged her teammates’ prowess.

“I think that those girls who do quads are great,” she said enthusiastically, though Zagitova nonetheless had tears in her eyes when she understood that she had lost to Kostornaia.

The technical disruption that ladies’ skating has undergone these few last years caused this pattern, but it won’t last forever, according to Daniil Gleikhengauz. He choreographs for both Zagitova and Kostornaia at the school in Moscow.

“When Alina was younger, no one thought of quads for ladies,” he explained. “She learned the most difficult jumps of that time. Then, we pushed to have our pupils land them in the second half of their programs [because it was worth more points under the rules]. Then, we asked ourselves ‘what’s next?’ We thought that maybe quads would be coming up, and we taught quads to the newcomers. They learned harder jumps.

“Alina is very smart,” Gleikhengauz continued. “She understands that she is 17 years old, not 11 or 12. The current generation will learn quads and land them for several years. At this point in time, ladies’ skating is at the top of technique, so it’s a little bit tough to maintain yourself many years, as technique is going so fast. Tomorrow will be different. Quads will be there for 10 to 15 years. So those girls who are mastering quads [now] will have many more years.”

The technical route is not the only path to winning, however.

“There are two ways to succeed: either you skate like Carolina Kostner, who takes your heart and each move is perfect. The other way is to do what young girls are doing,” Kostornaia said after her win in Grenoble.

Zagitova understands that as well.

“Quads are too dangerous for me for the time being,” Zagitova acknowledged. “I will need to prepare for them physically and mentally. I will also need to lose some weight, something like three kilos, to decrease the risk of injuries.

“If it’s really necessary for me to land a quad, I may train for landing one. But it will be difficult. It won’t be a quad Salchow or a quad toe, though, as they wouldn’t be the easiest for me.”

Zagitova thought she may try to train a quad Lutz first, like another young teammate of hers is landing. Shcherbakova’s free skate this season includes two quad Lutzes, and she won both Skate America and Cup of China.

“Learning a quad is a question of mentality,” Gleikhengauz said. “When you are 11 or 13, you’re falling every day, as you are learning triple jumps. Then you master them. You start learning triple Axels and quads – and again you fall, fall, fall. And then you master them and you don’t fall anymore. What happens next is that you forget about falling and how to fall. When you have to learn triple Axel or quad later on, then you’re really scared about it and it may become dangerous for you.”

Zagitova, though, may be on the “Kostner route” for the time being.

“For now, I can’t skate like Carolina Kostner yet,” Zagitova said while laughing, “but I’m working at it.”

Kostner, the 2014 Sochi Olympic bronze medalist, won her first European title at age 20. She is known for her artistic qualities on the ice.

This season, Zagitova chose a Flamenco piece, Yasmin Levy’s “Me Voy,” for her short program. Her free skate is a medley of music she called “Cleopatra” which includes pieces from Peter Gabriel’s “The Feeling Begins,” Maurice Jarre’s “Lawrence of Arabia” soundtrack, and Khatir Hicham’s “Ramses.”

“We tried different kinds of choreography, but we felt this music was good for me,” Zagitova said. “I think it suits my style and my skating well, and I loved it right away. My short and my free programs are very different, with two different styles. Fans are telling me that I can do a lot more than ballet music. I’m glad I can show that on the ice.”

“Alina is a really beautiful skater,” Gleikhengauz said. “She is amazing. When we make a program, she always makes something bigger than a program. She always comes up with new ideas: ‘why don’t we do this?’ ‘why wouldn’t we try that?’ She is such an artist.”

Eventually, Zagitova wants to work her way through a list of various different styles.

“We work on them, thanks to the many specialists who come teach us,” she said. “We dance a lot on the floor. We have jazz dance or twist right now. That helps us develop our programs, and gives us huge possibilities to develop ourselves.”

No one knows how long Zagitova will take to master her most difficult jumps. But as for now, she still is the reigning Olympic and world champion, and she intends for that to last.

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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