Shoma Uno claimed his first national title, came close to winning the world championships this past season and is likely to be one of the top contenders at the Pyeongchang Olympics next February.
But the teenager is taking it one step at a time, saying the 2018 Winter Games will just be one chapter of what he hopes will be a long career.
In his second senior season, Uno had won five individual titles before falling just short of 22-year-old compatriot Yuzuru Hanyu in the worlds in Helsinki on April 1, when the Sochi Olympic gold medalist received 321.59 points to his 319.31.
“I myself couldn’t imagine that I would grow this much. I have a sense of a fulfillment that I didn’t expect to in a span of just one year, and I’m finally beginning to have some confidence in myself,” he told Kyodo News in a recent interview.
“The difference in level (with Hanyu until last season) was huge and I was really embarrassed to skate in the same group as him. I’m still below him, but also feel like I’ve climbed at least to the same stage.”
Uno said that his victory at the Sapporo Asian Winter Games in February — a week after settling for third at the Four Continents Championships — was one big turning point.
“I wasn’t fully prepared physically nor mentally, having come straight from the Four Continents, but I was able to discover that I can get things done if I keep my composure,” he said.
While there are high hopes for the 19-year-old at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, Uno is looking at the bigger picture.
“Of course it’s a stage I’m aiming for, but it’s not everything to me,” he said. “I like and enjoy competing, so I want to remain an active skater for a long time. This is one passing point in my skating life and I want to have a go at it without putting too much pressure on myself.”
Uno, however, was aware that he has a genuine chance to seek the Olympic gold medal in nine months and was quick to point out where the gap with the top skaters remains.
“My technical elements were more difficult (with higher base value) compared to the winner (Hanyu) in both the short and free skate at the worlds,” Uno said. “What decided the winner was the difference in degree of perfection.
“I will have to polish what I am able to do now as the minimum prerequisite and in addition take on new challenges, for example the quadruple salchow and lutz jumps.”