What a difference a week makes.
Two Sundays ago, Shoma Uno was earning a bronze medal at the Four Continents Championships in Gangneung, South Korea, behind American Nathan Chen and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu in impressive fashion.
So much so that a Eurosport announcer said after Uno’s free skate, “I think Shoma is as much worthy of being tipped to win the gold medal in the Olympics next year as Hanyu or Chen.”
Fast forward to this past Sunday, and Uno was struggling to beat a relatively weak field for the gold medal at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo.
Uno had to come from behind after the short program to narrowly defeat China’s Jin Boyang for the gold at Makomanai Arena. Uno’s slim margin of victory was less than one point (281.27 to 280.08).
Despite winning, Uno looked lethargic in both his short program and free skate (where he fell twice). It was pretty clear that he was exhausted from the week before.
It is rare to see elite skaters compete two weeks in a row. At this level, the body needs time to reset and recover.
“I didn’t have much time after the Four Continents,” Uno was quoted as saying by Kyodo News after the free skate on Sunday. “I thought things would improve by the time I came to compete again, but that wasn’t the case,” Uno said. “But it’s not just me who’s had a hard schedule and I feel I lack the experience to prepare properly.”
So the real question is why did the Japan Skating Federation originally select both Uno and Satoko Miyahara, the two national champions this season, to skate the very next week after the Four Continents?
It seems that they were likely trying to help the organizers of the Asian Winter Games sell tickets for the figure skating by sending two name skaters.
While on the surface the moves seemed generous of the JSF, it also lacked wisdom. The likely logic was that because Uno and Miyahara are both young, they would be resilient enough to pull off the workload.
Ice Time thinks the plan was a poor idea from the beginning. There are many other skaters Japan could have sent to Sapporo, especially for an event that was not a major championship but a regional gathering.
As it was, Miyahara ended up having to withdraw from both the Four Continents and the Asian Winter Games with a hip fracture, while Uno struggled to earn the title in Hokkaido.
I believe that elite skaters, despite their power and endurance, can be easily knocked off form by any deviation in their practice routine or even a slight illness. These are finely tuned athletes who are trying to maintain peak condition for at least six months, which is no easy feat.
Just this season we have seen Hanyu have to pull out of the nationals with the flu, and then Miyahara’s replacement for the Asian Winter Games, Japan junior champion Kaori Sakamoto, have to withdraw also due to the flu.
I hope the JSF’s decision to send Uno to Sapporo right after the Four Continents doesn’t end up costing him a chance at a medal at the world championships in Helsinki next month. He has put together a fine season, and it would be a real shame if it gets derailed because of the added stress on his mind and body for less-than altruistic reasons.
The worlds are still several weeks away, but will Uno be able to get back on track in time to be a factor in the medal picture?
Only time will tell.
New endeavor: Three-time world champion Evgeni Plushenko of Russia announced some interesting news recently via Instagram. The 2006 Olympic gold medalist said he will start his own skating academy in Moscow in April and promised to have top-notch people from the sport helping him.
Here is Plushenko’s message:
Dear friends, now finally I can share with you a very happy event in my life. I have been waiting for this for a long time, in two months I will be starting my academy of figure skating in the heart of Moscow, with the best coaches and choreographers, and most importantly, of course, I will not only train, but also will be a mentor for professional athletes!
I will continue to skate for you, but I’m interested to engage with those who love figure skating because the ice is my life, most of my life I spent on the ice and do not intend to violate the traditions of my academy. The doors are open to children from all over the world! We will do the impossible.
The 34-year-old Plushenko has not competed since the team event at the Sochi Games, where he helped Russia win the gold. Though he has held out the possibility of trying to make the Russian Olympic team for a fifth time for next year’s Pyeongchang Games, it looks like he is moving on to a new phase in his life.
End of the line: American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the gold medalists in Sochi, announced last week that they are retiring and will not be defending their title in Pyeongchang.
The two enjoyed an amazing competitive partnership that lasted more than 15 years and resulted in them winning two world titles and three Olympic medals. The duo took the silver at the 2010 Vancouver Games and were part of the U.S. team that claimed the bronze in the team event in Sochi.
Davis, now 30, and White, 29, have not competed since Sochi.
The pair won the Grand Prix Final five straight years (2009-2013) and the U.S. crown six consecutive times (2009-2014).
“I think we felt for a while this was the right decision to make, but there was always this pull in the backs of our minds, knowing there were new things we could potentially bring to competitive ice,” Davis was quoted as saying by icenetwork.com.
“The biggest (factor) was if we didn’t feel we were 100 percent prepared to give everything we had, which is what we did leading up to 2014,” White said.
More beautiful than Davis and White’s skating is the fact that they began training together in Michigan when they were just 9 and 10 years old, and were able to keep the relationship going for so long.
Ice Time salutes Davis and White, who will continue to perform in shows, for their incredible careers.
Book contest reminder: The Japan Times is offering several readers the chance to win a copy of the recently released Japanese book “Team Brian 300-Point Legend” about coach Brian Orser’s experiences teaching Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and two-time world titlist Javier Fernandez.
Orser, a two-time Olympic silver medalist for Canada, discusses the challenges he faced in dealing with the different personalities of Hanyu and Fernandez, along with many other subjects in the book.
The 285-page tome was co-written by veteran skating journalist Yoshie Noguchi and two-time Olympian and coach Yutaka Higuchi and published by Kodansha.
The book covers the 2014-15 season, after Hanyu won the gold at the Sochi Games, and the 2015-16 campaign, when Hanyu became the first skater to break the 300-point barrier. It also discusses preparations for the current 2016-17 pre-Olympic campaign.
Several color photos are included showing Hanyu and Fernandez in competition and Orser’s interaction with them.
To enter the drawing for the books, please send an email with your name and address to: email@example.com with “Team Brian 300-Point Legend” entered in the subject line.
The contest is open to both domestic and overseas readers.