December 12, 2014: Japan’s Shoma Uno and Sota Yamamoto, 16 and 14 at the time, win gold and silver at the Junior Grand Prix Final held in Barcelona, Spain. The two teenagers sit in the stands watching the big guys, enjoy themselves during the event, giggle in the press conference room – and look ahead, to their competitive future, with a lovely mixture of candor and trust.
December 10, 2022: Japan’s Shoma Uno and Sota Yamamoto, 24 and 22, win gold and silver at the Grand Prix Final in Torino, Italy. It is their first encounter at a senior Grand Prix Final, at a very different point of their career than 8 years ago, and they win the very same set of medals.
And this particular detail, alongside their entire shared journey in Torino make for one of the most heartwarming moments of this year’s edition of the Grand Prix Final.
by Florentina Tone/Torino
Still, what happened in between those two reference points?
Well, a lot happened to Shoma Uno, who became a multiple World and Olympic medalist, while Sota Yamamoto’s journey on senior stage was not as smooth: he was hindered by an injury at first and then, season by season, he needed to take the hard way to the top.
But this season right here, his results on the Grand Prix circuit, him qualifying for the Final and winning a silver medal in Torino are signaling, without any shadow of a doubt, that Sota’s luck is finally starting to change, that his hard work finally pays off, that confidence has finally become an ally.
He’s come full circle – and we couldn’t be more pleased with that.
In Torino, the emotional relevance of this particular story – Shoma and Sota’s shared Grand Prix Final, them mirroring the exact results from 8 years ago – hasn’t really escaped anyone.
The skaters themselves have been asked to ponder on it after the short, after the free – and they had been asked to do so even in Japan, at NHK Trophy, their first head-to-head encounter this season.
One could have seen there, in Sapporo, an ecstatic and joyful Shoma cheering for Sota during competition, and exchanging happy smiles, happy words at the end of his free skate.
TORINO: 1-2 PLACES AFTER THE SHORT
After the men’s short program in Torino, Shoma Uno and Sota Yamamoto were already sitting in the first-and-second place (with teammate Kao Miura on third).
Asked to comment on finally being reunited in a senior Grand Prix Final, like in their junior years, Shoma would first and foremost highlight his teammate’s hard work – and then take a moment to appreciate the high level of the Japanese skaters overall.
“It just happens that Sota and I we train at the same rink [at Chukyo University training center] – I think that I trained the most this year with him, and I said the same thing at NHK Trophy.
This year, looking at his level, I can say the perfection is there in practice, and the jump quality is so high, so it’s natural that he was able to put the performance and place high here.
All the Japanese skaters are training at top quality – and any of us can be at the top of the podium, I’m amazed at the level of the Japanese skaters”.
Sota’s answer would follow the same path: recognition, appreciation.
“Shoma serves as a role model for all of us who skate there [at Chukyo]. There is so much to learn from his practices and skating.
It’s great being in the Grand Prix Final not only with Shoma, but with Kao (Miura) and Shun (Sato) and having all these Japanese skaters competing here. Looking at them in practice makes me want to do better, and I’m sure we’ll do better on the free skate day”.
SHOMA UNO: “IT’S A GOOD RIVALRY AND I THINK WE CAN CONTINUE THAT FOR SOME TIME”
Two days later, they will once again share the same two spots in the press conference room (signaling their results on the ice: gold and silver at 2022 Grand Prix Final), and it’s only natural they would be asked again about their common journey.
This time, their answers would be more personal, more concrete. Their time of joy had finally come.
Shoma Uno would once again look ahead with confidence, just like in 2014: “We don’t know for how long we’ll be continuing to skate, nobody knows the future – but, from now on, we hope there will be no accidents, no injuries, and if we can continue to practice, and do well in the performance in the competition, that will be great.
It’s a competition, yes, and there are winners, and there is always this first place, second place – but it will be nice if we could enjoy this relationship of always competing against each other.
It’s a good rivalry and I think we can continue that for some time.
And even there are those end results in competition, in training we help each other, we are always there to inspire each other to reach the higher standards – and that’s what we enjoy”.
Sota’s answer almost made an X-ray – but one that was very emotional – to their common journey, and the beacon that Shoma used to be (and still is) to him.
“Shoma and I used to compete together and he was one of the closest goals I had, and it was also a really nice experience that we ended up on the podium as junior skaters.
But then, later on, Shoma really advanced to the seniors and became more of a wonderful skater, he became more of a goal, even an aspiration up there – and for me it took more time to get to where I am today, but again I am able to call him a goal.
And maybe now I’m a little bit closer to the goal and once again I can aspire to be close to Shoma and increase my level further”.
FROM TORINO, ITALY, TO KADOMA, JAPAN: Thoughts on the Japanese Nationals
>>>Shoma Uno: “I don’t know how emotional I will be at Nationals – but all four Japanese skaters who took part in this Final will be there. It will be very tough in terms of how we can have a better condition, because it’s such a short time from this competition. I just want to wish that everybody will be able to put their best performance without an injury”.
>>> Sota Yamamoto : “At Nationals there will be four skaters from here [Grand Prix Final] and there are other skaters too who are very high level. I think I will consider this performance in the Grand Prix Final as a good experience, but I’m just going to forget all about it and, in the upcoming week, I’ll make sure I tune myself to the condition going into Nationals”.
[Story by Florentina Tone/Torino
Homepage photo by Wilma Alberti
Photos by Florentina Tone and Wilma Alberti]