With the field as deep as it is in Japanese men’s skating, you are only as good as your last skate. That is a fact Shoma Uno already understands all too well.
In his first full season in the senior ranks, the 18-year-old is determined not to be yesterday’s news in his nation and is continually challenging himself to take his skating to the next level. When Uno captured the 2015 World Junior title, he did so with a free skate marred with errors. He owed his victory in large part to his short program. Though he placed second at nationals last year, he was not selected to compete at the senior World Championships in Shanghai, where Japan failed for the first time in a decade to qualify three skaters for the 2016 global competition.
With only two spots available in Boston this year — and one of those surely destined for Yuzuru Hanyu — any skater seeking that second berth had to make a case from the outset. Uno opened his season at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in September where his campaign could not have gotten off to a worse start.
His edgy short to “Legends” by Sacred Spirit was an unmitigated technical calamity. After falling on a triple toe loop, he doubled the Axel and two-footed the landing. Then, to top it all off, his triple flip-triple toe combination was deemed invalid because of the repeated triple toe. Uno could only laugh with his coach, Mihoko Higuchi, when his score of 52.45 was announced, which left him in a distant ninth place.
The following day, his long program to “Nessun Dorma” was a marked improvement. Uno topped the standings in the free, but it was not enough to put him on the podium, and he finished in fifth. It was not the start he had hoped for. He returned to Nagoya, where his coaching team revamped the layouts of both his programs.
At the Japan Open in early October, Uno defeated Javier Fernández and Patrick Chan. Two weeks later, Uno was back in the United States for his first senior Grand Prix event, Skate America. He placed fourth in the short but rallied in the free to finish in second overall. His season was finally getting on track. “I made errors in both segments of that competition, but I didn’t lose focus, so there was a lot I took away from that,” Uno explained.
At his second event in France, he took the lead with a new personal best score. “The short program has been my biggest challenge this season. I was finally able to put about 70 percent of what I can do in practice into competition, so I was relieved,” the Nagoya native recalled. “When the event was canceled due to the terrorist attacks in Paris Uno said he had mixed emotions but “the only thing I could do was to move on from there and focus on my next competition.”
The International Skating Union issued its decision on the outcome of Trophée Éric Bompard: Uno was declared the victor and was on his way to the Grand Prix Final.
The short program has been my biggest challenge this season. A year after winning the Junior Grand Prix Final and just a week shy of his 18th — birthday, he was back in Barcelona. Uno said he was happy with his performance even though he was fourth after the short.
He turned it around in the free, landing two triple Axels, two quad toes and five other triple jumps. The audience erupted at the conclusion of his program. He racked up 276.79 points and skated off with the bronze medal. Once again, he rued his mistakes in the short but was satisfied with the final outcome.
Less than two weeks later, Uno headed to Japanese nationals, the most important event of the year. This competition would determine the rest of his season. With only one place available on the World team, the short program was a tense affair, and many of the contenders for that second spot crumbled under the pressure. Uno was not one of them. At the end of his performance, the audience inside the Makomanai Sekisui Heim Arena rose to its feet.
When his score of 97.94 flashed on the screen, Uno exhibited a genuine look of astonishment. Even more surprising was that his score was only slightly less than five points shy of Hanyu’s.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes this season in the short, so I was relieved that I was somehow able to successfully land all my jumps at nationals,” Uno said. “I still think I could have done more, so I’m going to try to improve on this at my next event.”
Heading into the free, Uno knew he could not afford to relax. Others had skated well, and it would be a tight race to the finish. He popped his opening quad toe into a double but then reeled off a series of clean jumping passes in quick succession. Uno seemed to lose his focus after landing a quad toe in the second half of the program, ex- ecuting a scrappy triple Lutz and turning a final quad attempt into a double. Despite finishing third in the free behind Hanyu and Takahito Mura, Uno remained in second overall. It was his second consecutive national silver medal.
“I made that mistake on my first jump, but I think all my other jumps were good,” Uno said. “In particular, I was glad that I was able to land the second quad toe at- tempt. Not getting the quad at the end was a big error, and I wouldn’t have gone for it if I hadn’t missed it the first time. It was disappointing, but I’m proud that I didn’t back down and really went for it.”
Higuchi expressed her satisfaction with how her young charge has grown as a com- petitor since last season. “This has been a really good year for him, and he has gained a lot of experience,”Higuchi said.“Mentally, he has become stronger. Particularly at the Grand Prix Final, he wasn’t in bad shape, but he was a little bit overawed by the oc- casion. However, even in that situation, he showed how much he has matured by dig- ging deep and skating his best. It was great to see.”
Uno and Yuzuru Hanyu were named to the Worlds team. Uno was also assigned to Four Continents, where he was looking to improve on his fifth place finish in 2105. “This season started with failure, but I was able to turn those failures into success,” Uno said. “I think I ended the first half of the season on a good note, but there are things I still need to work on. There is still some time until Worlds, so I’m going to try my hardest to improve all aspects of my skating. It will be my first senior Worlds, so I want to give it my all.”