Shoma Uno

Shoma Uno
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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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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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Yuzuru Hanyu upset by Shoma Uno at Japanese Nationals

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Yuzuru Hanyu lost Japanese Nationals for the first time in eight years, taking silver behind Shoma Uno on Sunday.

Hanyu, competing at nationals for the first time since 2015 after injury-marred seasons, led by 5.01 points after the short program but had several jumping errors in the free skate, including falling on a triple Axel.

“There is no good point at all from today’s performance,” Hanyu said, according to the Japan Times, adding to Kyodo News. “I did my best. I wasn’t good enough, and now it’s over.”

Uno, the Olympic silver medalist who struggled in the fall Grand Prix Series, outscored Hanyu by 12.81 in Sunday’s free skate. He landed three quadruple jumps in the free — one fewer than Hanyu — but was much cleaner overall with just one negatively graded jump.

“It was not my best skate, but I feel like I really enjoyed it,” Uno said, 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 earned his fourth straight national title but his first with Hanyu in the field. The duo combined to win the last eight nationals. Uno became the first skater to beat Hanyu other than Nathan ChenJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan in more than five years.

Both Hanyu and Uno will be on Japan’s three-man team for the world championships in Montreal in March, where they will be medal contenders along with two-time reigning world champion Chen.

Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist skating singles for the last time, finished 12th. Takahashi is now expected to start competing in ice dance.

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