Shoma Uno (JPN) at the 2021 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy in Tokyo © International Skating Union (ISU)
Shoma Uno of Japan will be only 24 on December 17, but he has competed in five ISU World Championships as well as in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, where he won the silver medal. He collected silver as well at the ISU World Championships 2017 and 2018 plus in the ISU Grand Prix Final the same years
Ever since he won the ISU World Junior title in 2015, Uno belonged to the top Skaters in the world, but then there was a time when he seemed lost. The four-time Japanese Champion struggled in 2019 with the low point being an eighth-place finish at the ISU Grand Prix Internationaux de France – after being on the podium in each event since he started to compete at the senior-level circuit in 2015. It was then that two-time ISU World Champion and now coach Stéphane Lambiel took him under his wings.
“At first, to be honest, I was thinking about finishing my career,” Shoma revealed. “I did not know how much longer I would keep going. But imaging the end (I thought) maybe I'll enjoy the rest of this career as an athlete.” The picture then changed when the two-time ISU World silver medalist started to work with Lambiel. “Working with Stephane I just really feel that I want to skate as long as possible,” Uno said. “It's not really a payback or anything, but I want to grow as a skater and achieve some titles for Stéphane, so everyone will know what a great coach he is.”
The pandemic obviously did not make it easier to work together. While the Japanese star spends some time in Lambiel’s Skating School of Switzerland in Champéry, he trains as well a lot in Japan by himself because of travel restrictions and quarantine rules. He and his coach then work online, but they meet at competitions and enjoy this time especially.
“Of course it's been tough not being able to practice with Stéphane in real life, but it is not so much a concern about my jumps, it is more about other things like getting into the program,” Uno noted. “That was hard on my own, but I wasn't truly alone, I have many people supporting me back home in Japan as well. I think I was able to have good training sessions and there were no major problems.”
Shoma Uno (JPN) and his Coach Stéphane Lambeil at the 2021 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy in Tokyo © International Skating Union (ISU)
Lambiel suggested the music for the Free Skating to a modern version of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero”, called “Bolero IV New Breath”, and choreographed the program. The Short Program is set to two classical Oboe Concertos by Alessandro Marcello and by Antonio Vivaldi and was choreographed by Kenji Miyamoto.
“Stéphane told me 'this is the music' and I decided that we are going to do it,” the Japanese Skater noted. “Every season I leave the music choice up to my coaches, but we make sure that every season it is something much better than the previous one.”
Shoma feels very motivated for this season. “Some competitions (in the past) were not that good. Having this experience, I now really want to be back in the top game and compete at the top level in the world,” he said. “I want to make sure I am really ready and I have the drive to do well at the top level. It is not because it is the Olympic season, but it just happens to be the Olympic season. I am also looking at the younger skaters like Yuma Kagiyama, they are coming up.”
Uno, who came fourth at the ISU World Championships 2021, had a good start into the Olympic season. He placed second at the ISU Grand Prix Skate America and then won the ISU Grand Prix NHK Trophy 2021 at home in Japan. It was the first time in three years for him to win an ISU Grand Prix event. The Yoyogi Stadium in Tokyo is a special place for him, as he pointed out. “When Stéphane won the Grand Prix Final (in 2005) it was at this rink and when I won (Nationals) two years ago, it was here as well. Stéphane and I agreed that this is a lucky place,” Shoma said. “We know that sometimes you win with luck, but for this event I really think my skills and my ability gave me this result. I can grow even further, hopefully then I’ll get many more championships and titles under my belt.”
But even after winning, the Skater keeps his calm. “I try to be not too happy when I am successful. If something works, but I haven’t trained hard for it, I was just lucky. Or, if you train hard, but you make a mistake in the competition, maybe you were unlucky,” he shared.
Almost all of the current top Skaters include multiple quadruple jumps into their program and Uno is no exception. In the Grand Prix events, he aimed for five quads – loop, Salchow, flip and two toes – and landed four of them at NHK Trophy, only the flip became a double. Some might think this is too much risk, but he does not agree.
“It is really difficult now, I do realize the difficulty and that's why everybody makes mistakes and it influences their final placement,” Shoma said. “Even if I did an easier program, I was not able to do it clean, I never had a 100 percent perfect program. So if that's the case, why not going to the limit and make it really difficult and practice like crazy to be in the race.” At Skate America he pointed out that his program was not the most difficult with Nathan Chen going for six quads. “The competition level is so high, which actually makes me really happy,” Uno noted.
Shoma continues to push the limits. “When I train and want to become better, it's not good for me to work on what I can already do,” he pointed out. “If I'm satisfied with just giving 80 per cent, I'm not good. The right training for me is to push my limits. That's the training I like. With this program, I thought there would be hardly anyone who has my content, but when I saw Nathan Chen's free skate, I realized it had similar elements. He did a (quad) loop (at Skate America), and he can jump a (quad) Lutz, flip, Salchow and toeloop, and he is better at it than me. When I saw this content, I first thought that I won't be able to master it in my career as a figure skater, but then I decided to give away my own thoughts in a good sense. I'm struggling a bit with my Lutz, I'll have to think about how I work on it during the season.”
Shoma Uno (JPN) won the gold medal at the 2021 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy in Tokyo© International Skating Union (ISU)
Right now Uno is still thinking about what to do for his next competition. “I haven’t decided yet whether to make my program harder or just keep the current content and work on it as much as I can so that I am happy with it. Either way, I definitely want to show that I’ve grown and I want to put out a good skate and achieve good results at the competition. I definitely don't want to somehow win the competition, but I want to develop myself to the level where it is natural for me to win the competition instead of winning by chance.”
Shoma has a lot of personality and shows it not only on the ice but also in his fun YouTube Channel where you even can meet his three toy poodles Emma, Baron and Toro. “The reason why I started was Corona. We were trying to find a way to express ourselves to the world more, the easiest way would be a movie and so Youtube, there you go. That's how it started,” the 23-year-old explained. “When I am on the ice, I am totally focused on my sport, but when I'm off the ice, I am sure most people know I am just a lazy slacker, but I thought that would be a good way to show to the people how I am off the ice, but still this is Shoma Uno.”
Having dogs was not his idea originally. “At first I was the only one refusing to have a dog. I am really afraid of all animals, big or small, it doesn't matter, it was just not my thing. But when I talked to people around me they always told me that when it's your baby, your dog, your family it is a totally different story. They were right,” he shared. Now Shoma does not want to miss Emma, Baron and Toro anymore. “I really love them, and enjoy the time with them, even when I have a bad day in practice or just in general, they always come up to me like nothing happened.”
When asked who inspires him the most, Shoma’s surprising answer was “myself. Of course, I think I am inspired by many people and heard some good words from everyone, too, but in the end when you break it down, I do feel that it is myself that inspires me and sadly, I don't listen to anyone. Sometimes I listen, but mostly I go with my own mind,” he added.
Right now Uno’s life is focused on Figure Skating and there is no room for dreams outside the sport. “After the Grand Prix in France (2019) I was thinking about quitting, but then I thought it over what else can I do. In the end, I realized to continue Figure Skating is the best way to succeed or the closest way instead of starting something whole new from zero. That's why I don't have any other dream.”