It may not have been the free skate he wanted to win the Junior Worlds with – or the one he wished to deliver in front of his numerous fans in Tallinn, but the truth is that Shoma Uno’s performance to music from the movie “Don Juan deMarco” was absolutely mesmerizing, casting a spell on everyone watching and winning him world’s admiration. At his fourth participation in the event, the 17-year-old Japanese ran away with the Junior gold – and our hearts; and the paradox is that he still doesn’t seem to understand the power he already has on the audience. A magnetic presence on the ice, a set of programs that puts him and his skating skills under the spotlight, wonderful modesty – that’s the 2015 World Junior Champion, the fifth Japanese to win the title in the history of the competition (2002: Daisuke Takahashi; 2005: Nobunari Oda; 2006: Takahiko Kozuka; 2010: Yuzuru Hanyu). All of his four predecessors turned out to be huge names in figure skating, with two of them winning Olympic medals and making history for Japan, so we do wonder what life has in store for this incredibly talented skater from Nagoya…
by Florentina Tone
His trembling right hand in the air while waiting for the music to start and a gorgeous triple Axel, landed in the exact same moment the piano found its way into Kreutzer’s Violin Sonata no. 9. These are my most vivid memories when it comes to Shoma Uno’s short program in Tallinn. These, and the sound of his skates while spinning – that wonderful spin, with loads of variations, at the end of his routine.
All in all, it was as if an aura has surrounded Shoma Uno all throughout the 2 minutes and 50 seconds of his short program in Tallinn – a golden, magical aura, who sent him straight into the lead, almost 8 points separating him from the skater ranked second after the short program, the Russian Adian Pitkeev. At the press conference after this segment of the men’s event, Shoma Uno didn’t brag about the scores – instead, he said simply: “I think I achieved one of my best performances in the short program and I hope to do the same tomorrow in the free skating”. He even joked about his triple Lutz – he had to put all his strength in holding the landing of the Lutz in the short program, as if the jump were an animal to be tamed. “I hate the triple Lutz”, the Japanese teenager said. “I prefer to do the quad in the short program, which I do in my senior short program”.
Dissolving into the music
Well, a day later, this particular jump, the quad, pretty much let Shoma Uno down – or was it Shoma letting down the jump, not managing to control his emotions? Popping the planned quad toe in the first seconds of the free skate could have triggered disaster – instead, the program gained strength and intensity, becoming one of the most powerful performances of this year’s edition of the Junior Worlds, with Shoma Uno completely dissolving into the music composed by Michael Kamen for the movie “Don Juan deMarco”. Such a strong, dense musical fragment, exquisitely played by the London Metropolitan Orchestra – and such a great interpreter in Shoma Uno; the 17-year-old skater from Nagoya succeeded into sweeping us all into the story and his Program Components Scores are here to prove he masterfully played his part in Tallinn. His Technical Element Scores, on the other hand, were only fourth of the night; landing three quadruple jumps in the free skate, China’s Boyang Jin had previously set the bar sky-high, winning this particular segment of the men’s event and taking the silver medal overall.
As for the 2015 World Junior champion, he was clearly disappointed he hadn’t delivered a perfect free skate in Tallinn. In the winner’s interview, he said he felt very sorry for the fans not being able to see the performance he wished for – and, minutes later on the podium, his gold medal around his neck, he looked rather sad, his face literally buried into the bouquet given by the organizers. A restrained smile – and not the joyous face he had in Barcelona, in December, when he won the Junior Grand Prix Final Champion’s title.
The truth is Shoma Uno is way too modest – and this seems to be one of the innate qualities of the Japanese skaters. And though modesty might seem a wonderful quality to have, it may also do you harm, giving you the (false) impression that you don’t deserve the great things happening to you. In Tallinn, even without having the best free skate of his life in terms of jumps and scores, the Japanese shined – his distinction was more than obvious. And, for his own good – and in order to ease his mind – Shoma should place a mirror in front of him while he skates; he’ll see what we, the public, see when looking at him: a natural talent, one that strikes from miles away. And his results this season do nothing but prove it. Let’s have a recap, shall we? Silver at the Junior Grand Prix event in Japan; gold at the Junior Grand Prix event in Croatia; gold at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain; Japan’s junior national champion; silver at Japan (senior) Championships; fifth place at the first international senior event of his career, 2015 Four Continents, and now gold in Tallinn, at the Junior Worlds – this has been the 2014-2015 season for Shoma Uno, who’s definitely the skater to watch the following years.
Loads of talent on display in Tallinn
Actually, the future of men’s figure skating seems to be in very good hands if we look at the quantity of talent on display in Tallinn. We have Shoma Uno, of course, the newly crowned Junior champion – but, from where I stand, all skaters in Top 10 at 2015 Junior Worlds will definitely have a word to say in the years to come.
Let’s take the 17-year-old Boyang Jin, for example, the silver medalist in Tallinn and the author of a feisty free skate, with no less than three quads, one in combination. 12 points separated him from the Japanese after the short program – but that didn’t prevent Boyang from trying to capture a medal at this year’s edition of the Junior Worlds. With a sky-rocketing set of scores for his technical elements in the free skate (90.81 points), the Chinese moved from fifth place to second overall – and he’ll definitely be a quad-king in his senior years. “This is my third Junior Worlds, but I got a medal for the first time. It was a quite good performance. The second quad wasn’t so good, and I couldn’t do the combination as planned, but then I was able to do it later. All the other things were quite good”, a satisfied Boyang Jin said at the post-event press conference.
Also coming very fast and convincing from behind was Sota Yamamoto, the silver medalist at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, three months ago. In Tallinn, the 15-year-old was 7th after the short program – and what a beauty of a program this is, with Sota choosing Rachmaninov music “because it was Mao Asada’s music from last season and I loved it” – but it was the free skate, that bold, confident free skate that set the Japanese apart; an exquisite performance to “Lorelei” by Naoki Sato and a bronze medal for Sota Yamamoto in his debut at the Junior Worlds. “I was so nervous in the short program and after that I tried not to be so nervous and not so stiff. As a result, I had this (good) performance”, the bronze medalist told the journalists at the end of the event.
And while Russia’s Adian Pitkeev and Alexander Petrov didn’t manage to hold off to their placements after the short (Pitkeev slipped from second to fifth and Petrov dropped from third to sixth), they do have what it takes to be fierce competitors at the senior level; one can not overlook Adian’s elegance or Alexander’s similarities with Evgeni Plushenko in landing the jumps. The Russian teenagers just need to work on their confidence level; in Tallinn the pressure ate them alive.
As for the 2014 World Junior bronze medalist, USA’s Nathan Chen, he is too a name for the future. The 15-year old trained by Rafael Arutunian didn’t repeat as a medalist at 2015 Junior Worlds – his recent heel injury might have messed with his practice routine – but he definitely showed he’s champion material. His Michael Jackson short program is a beauty, with Nathan truly skating in the character of the music, and his free skate to Chopin was definitely a joy to watch: a beautiful flowing on the ice and loads of talent this young man has. Consequently, he moved up from ninth to fourth place overall.
Our final praises go to Israel’s Daniel Samohin (hats off for his ability to take the crowd with him during his performances), to Canada’s Roman Sadovsky (his short program, to Gary Moore’s music, suits his style of skating like a glove) and Latvia’s Deniss Vasiljevs. The 15-year-old from Daugavpils finished the second Junior Worlds of his career on the 7th place, moving up one place from last year’s edition in Sofia, and you have to admire his catching enthusiasm and joy when skating; not to mention he’s a wonderful, innovative spinner. And I for one loved seeing Alexei Urmanov, the 1994 Olympic champion, standing alongside Deniss in the Kiss and Cry…