This particular interview?
You may see it, and we envisioned it as a follow-up to our first conversation with Stéphane Lambiel regarding Shoma Uno; skater and coach had found one another during Shoma’s most difficult season of his career – and Stéphane was more than confident in the qualities, and the future of his newest student. “He’s a big challenger, he pushes himself every day at practice, there is nothing to hold him back”, the coach said in January 2020.
And there was definitely no holding back for Shoma Uno during the grand 2021-2022 season, when the Japanese won the bronze medal in the team event at the Olympics, bronze in the individual event, and the World title in Montpellier.
In one of the most compact, fullest encounters of recent times – we only had a resurfacing break and the following 5-minute warm-up at hand, during 2022 Lombardia Trophy in Bergamo – we talked with the Swiss coach about pretty much everything that happened last season, plus the wonderful new programs that Shoma Uno has for this one: short program to Gravity by John Mayer, free skate to Air on the G String by Johann Sebastian Bach and Mea tormenta, properate by Johann Adolph Hasse.
And while we wait for Shoma’s first Grand Prix event, this week, in Canada, student and coach continue to do what they do best: aim for growth, for dreams accomplished.
interview by Florentina Tone/Bergamo
Stéphane, I would like us to come back to last season – I think we can call it Shoma’s most successful season of his career so far, with Olympic bronze and gold in Montpellier, but also your most successful season as a coach…
[The coach is nodding]: Yes, definitely.
I’ll start from here then: looking back at Shoma’s journey last season, what do you see? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
[Smiling] The first moment that comes up to my mind is, probably, Shoma’s free skate in Montpellier.
He made a few mistakes, but I felt his pleasure, and I felt his freedom.
And that was, for me – I don’t know how to explain it – a moment of happiness.
I remember you both, arms in the air, at the end of his free skate – that was the ending pose, of course, but also a triumphant gesture…
[Laughing] Yes! And, I think, last season, Shoma’s performance at Worlds and Deniss’ free skate at Europeans, those two performances really put me on a cloud. Over the clouds, actually!
I was so impressed with both of them!
They work very hard and they put a lot of intensity in their practice, and it’s not easy under pressure to deliver what you have prepared in training – and both of them, they went there with so much confidence.
As a coach, you never know what’s going to happen, because you’re at the barrier, you have no power once they take the ice… So those two moments were, for me, the highlights of the season.
THE START OF SHOMA UNO’S SECOND OLYMPIC JOURNEY? WORLDS IN STOCKHOLM
When it comes to Shoma’s journey to Beijing, what did you feel you needed to do in order to get him ready for it? And what were the challenges that you encountered?
I mean, he already had the experience, he already had one Olympics in his backpack, and he’s been in the circuit for such a long time – from a very young age, he was already very exposed to it.
And so I think he’s kind of enjoying that atmosphere and pressure.
Of course, the season he was struggling was hard to overcome, but once he found again the pleasure to train, I think there were no more doubts for him.
>>>READ MORE: “Do it. Show us your colours!”
I remember, for example, in Stockholm, at 2021 Worlds, which was the beginning of his way up, the atmosphere was super heavy.
There were no crowds, COVID-fears everywhere, we were staying in the hotel and the rink was next door and we were not allowed to go out – there was only one little terrace for the smokers, and that was the only place we were allowed to go out… It felt so heavy, and I could not really enjoy that competition.
And before Shoma’s free skate, I remember I went to him and I kind of took his shoulders, looked into his eyes and told him: I don’t expect good or bad from you – I just expect that you go out there and you push, and you do your thing, and enjoy, and you have fun.
[Smiling] I was actually convincing myself more, because he was already convinced that he was going to fight.
And he just smiled at me, and he was like: Yeah, yeah, don’t worry. Don’t worry.
It was almost the other way around – he comforted you…
Exactly. With his smile, he really comforted me. But that was the point where we really needed to get ourselves together! To kind of realize: Ok, we are together here – let’s do it!
And we always had a very strong feeling with each other: I remember skating with him, I remember teaching him previously – but this particular moment, it was really a bonding that was probably one of the stepping stones towards the Olympic season.
RUN, SHOMA, RUN
And the Olympics itself – how did it stay on your mind? Are there particular, even little things that you remember from Beijing, apart from the competition nerves?
I mean, first of all, it was such a journey to arrive there!
Because I was COVID-positive before the Olympics, and I had to produce four negative tests before leaving. And the clock was ticking, and Deniss was alone there.
Shoma had his physical trainer with him in Beijing, so at least he had someone, but Deniss was struggling by himself, and he was also doubting if I would ever arrive. We had a plan B – but, nevertheless, I was trying really hard to get there, and it ended up that I went eventually.
And one of the good memories is us doing some off-ice training in the village: Deniss, Shoma and I – we were closed in the Olympic village due to COVID-restrictions.
And Deniss puts a lot of efforts in it, but then off-ice is not the strong point of Shoma [smiling]. Like: Shoma loves to do what matters, and sometimes off-ice training is not one of his priorities.
But he understood [in Beijing] that the day was long, and he needed to keep his body active – so he was joining us, and we were having fun, and these were such good moments.
You know, there’s competition, but there’s also outside competition. And Deniss and Shoma, they were in this brotherhood, in this Olympic brotherhood – and it was nice to feel this kind of spirit. And then, once they were on the ice, they were fighting and they were strong again.
But those little moments, those little runs together in the Olympic village together were fun.
So Olympics as a whole stays as a good memory after all…
Yes, I actually really enjoyed Beijing Olympics – it was well organized, everything was so smooth for us to live a great experience.
True, the atmosphere in the rink was not what I had experienced in my own Olympics and also the ones that I’ve been to as a coach – the PyeongChang Olympics, for example, where the environment was electric, and in Beijing it was not like that… – but it felt well organized, we were really well maintained.
Knowing the experience of Stockholm, it felt actually comfortable to be in such an environment where we would be actually, within our bubble, more free to move and to do what we wanted.
And, in the end, it was a great experience.
“WINNING A BIG TITLE IS A HUGE VICTORY, AND A HUGE SUCCESS – BUT IT’S ALSO A STEP TO… THE NEXT STEP”
Coming back to Shoma’s moment of triumph at Worlds in Montpellier, I remember you had this “exchange” with him in the press conference room, when Shoma was sort of hoping, that, after the challenging Bolero free skate, you would maybe cut him some slack – and you were: Nope, new challenges are on the way.
>>>Shoma Uno on his Bolero free skate – the way he skated it in France, the way he worked on it, intensively, during training:
“In the free program, the arrangement is very unique, the choreography is very complex. On top of that, all the jumps are very difficult so it’s quite a lot of burden in terms of the physical strength required. And today was my last competition of the season and, finally, I’ve really got it to the level that I wanted to skate with, until the very end of program.
During the week, I would maybe practice my short program once or twice, and the rest of the time, I focused on my free skating. And even with it that density [in training], it took me this long and this much to achieve this level – so I think you can imagine how difficult this program is.
And it’s a testament to Stéphane’s expectations of what I could do.
Having said that, maybe in the future, I think, other programs will feel a little bit easier in terms of physical strength compared to this Bolero”.
[Stéphane is smiling – he remembers]. Yes, I mean, winning a big title is a huge victory, and a huge success – but it’s also a step to… the next step [smiling still].
So I was preparing him to look forward – and I was actually very impressed with how quick he was with coming back to training.
We actually had a camp during Easter holidays – and, already in the morning, two weeks after Worlds, he was jumping like crazy, and he was very motivated. So I could really feel his spirit was on the way up, and I used that to create the new programs.
But does this bring additional responsibility? Have you felt it, while preparing this season’s programs and work schedule? Like: the World champion needs to confirm it, and you have a big role in that?
Of course I feel the responsibility. And, of course, I want him to win every single title, and win everything – that’s what we go for in competitions, to be the best and to win medals. But it’s not like the next day we were like: Ok, this competition we need to do, because we didn’t win it. Or this one…
I want him to have no limits in his dreams.
That’s it, that’s it – voilà! [smiling to the ears]
“THAT’S THE ONE!” SHORT PROGRAM TO “GRAVITY”
Let’s talk about Shoma’s new programs for the season – the short one, to “Gravity”, has already tons of fans everywhere. How did you choose that for him, and why? I mean, looking at the program, it’s obvious why, he wears it like a second skin…
With Salomé, during the Easter holidays, we listened to music – and I had two favorites. And we were discussing which one we should go for – and then, one night, we listened again and we were like: Ok, I think we’ll go with Gravity.
And the next morning, we get to the rink, I put the music, and Shoma is skating… And at the end of the session, Salomé is like: That’s the one!
And I’m like: Yeah, I think we don’t need to try the other one – that’s the one [smiling].
But did you tell him beforehand: Shoma, this might be your music?
Yes, yes, I told him: We have two options – this is option one, this is option two. [Thinking, smiling] I actually don’t even know if I mentioned option two. I just said: We have two options – here is the first option!
And we never talked about the second option [laughing heartily].
“THE WHOLE ATMOSPHERE OF THE FREE PROGRAM IS VERY SHOMA, I THINK”
And I’m not even going to ask you about the second one, in case you would maybe want to use it after all… But I am going to ask you about the long program, to Air on the G String by Bach and Mea tormenta – how was it born?
I personally really like baroque music for Shoma.
I don’t know why… Probably since I skated Vivaldi with him – and I think Vivaldi is always a very good fit for him, and not only Vivaldi –, baroque music feels correct, it feels correct with his style.
How could I explain it? He has something so classic and, at the same time, so modern – and baroque music has those facets: it’s mélancolique, but at the same time happy and also very sensitive.
And Air de Bach was one of the music that I listened to, and I just thought: You know what? This music needs to be on the ice – and Shoma is the right person [to skate to it].
I thought: That’s the piece, and I showed it to him, and he liked it right away, he was 100% positive, and I just told him: We need…. I don’t want to do a full program on Air de Bach, so I would love to have an evolution to something a little bit more dynamic.
And I listened to quite a lot of songs that were quite close to what he had in the short. At one point, I was even considering using the second part of the short as the second part of the free, because it worked really well, I kind of liked it.
But then I found this Mea tormenta sang by this voice – and the voice was very convincing.
As soon as I heard it on the ice, and I saw Shoma, I said: This voice, we need it. And the whole atmosphere of the program is very Shoma, I think.
You didn’t choreograph the program yourself, you entrusted Kenji Miyamoto with it…
Yes, I think Shoma had a great experience with Kenji last year, with the short program.
Kenji Miyamoto does indeed wonderful programs – I still remember Daisuke Takahashi’s Eye from 2010 Olympics…
Exactly! He does really great programs – and I love that every time we do group numbers for shows, he’s always very efficient and he has very good ideas. And the ideas that he puts on the ice feel so good to do! As soon as you move, with the music, it feels correct.
So he’s musical and has very good ideas – so that’s why we decided to work with him again. And we go with the flow, you know? [Smiling]
And Shoma’s highlight will be Worlds again? And home Worlds, this time?
[Laughing] Highlight is on the way, is on the way – we will take the opportunity for the highlight as soon as it’s there!
[interview by Florentina Tone/Bergamo
Photos © International Skating Union, Getty Images
Other photos by Wilma Alberti, Alberto Ponti, Florentina Tone]
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Stéphane Lambiel: “Do it. Show us your colours!”
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Shoma Uno, 2022 World champion – and other highlights from Montpellier