|

Shoma Uno coming on strong in bid for Olympic gold

by

Shoma Uno began his Grand Prix campaign with a grand performance at Skate Canada last week. The world silver medalist won the competition in Regina, Saskatchewan, by nearly 40 points.

More important than the margin of victory was the building belief by many observers that he is a legitimate threat to Yuzuru Hanyu’s bid to repeat as Olympic champion at the Pyeongchang Games.

Uno totaled 301.10 points in the victory over American Jason Brown (261.14) and Russia’s Alexander Samarin (250.06). The win was Uno’s second of the season after triumphing at the Lombardia Trophy in September in Italy.

The Nagoya native has now finished first in seven events and made the podium at 11 straight full competitions over the past two seasons.

Uno, the defending national champion, was sublime in his short program to “Winter,” landing a quadruple flip and quad toe loop/double toe loop combination jump, while not receiving a single negative grade of execution from the nine-judge panel.

Former U.S. champion Ryan Bradley, an analyst for the Olympic Channel, was blown away by Uno’s technical prowess.

“Unbelievable skate. Technically superior to anyone in this event,” Bradley stated after Uno’s short program. “He has a great command of the audience. He stays in character from the moment he presses away from the boards. It’s really quite amazing. He is only 19. He is very small but he has a massive presence.

“He has so much technical ability. If he can continue to put these clean programs together, he could very well go into the Olympic Games as the favorite.”

Bradley’s broadcast partner, Andrea Joyce, cited Uno’s poise on the ice.

“With such confidence and ease out there,” she commented. “When we talk about his silver medal at worlds, it’s important to note that he finished just about two points behind Hanyu. It was not a blowout by any stretch.

“He said that after that it really changed his mentality. He said he used to think that there was zero chance that he could beat Hanyu. After that, that changed.

“He said, ‘Now I want to win,’ Joyce added. “You see there is a maturity and a confidence out there that seems to back that up.”

Uno, who will turn 20 next month, landed three quads in his free skate to “Turandot,” but two-footed the landing on his quad flip and under-rotated a fourth quad (toe loop). Both happened in the second half of the program and Uno attributed them to training.

“The overall performance in the free skating, like yesterday in the short program, is satisfactory at this point of the season,” Uno was quoted as saying by the ISU website. “But I really need to improve my stamina. The mistakes on the quad toe and flip happened because I lacked stamina.”

“Not perfect. But, wow, he can capture a moment,” noted Bradley after Uno’s free skate. “So many big tricks in this program. Even with the mistakes, he accomplished so much.

“When he does this program cleanly, he could be the guy to beat. Yuzuru Hanyu is so excellent, but he has shown weakness, and Shoma has such a high ceiling.

“Shoma has a quality, of course no one has the power of Patrick (Chan), but that quality and he is in command throughout the entire program. To be able to have a good takeoff on a quad toe late in the program and come back and hit the next one with that kind of excellence. Shoma has so much confidence.”

Joyce cited Uno’s admiration for three-time world champion Chan in her comments on the free skate.

“After the short, he (Uno) said, ‘I admire Patrick Chan. I strive to be an expressive skater. That is what I want to be someday.’ “

Takahito Mura (186.66) finished last in the 12-man field and it appears that his chances of making the team for Pyeongchang with Hanyu and Uno are in real jeopardy.

Bradley didn’t mince words when evaluating Mura’s calamitous free skate to “Phantom of the Opera.”

“A disappointing performance for Takahito Mura,” Bradley said. “A lot of work to do if he hopes to named to that Olympic team.” Honda impresses observers

Marin Honda finished a respectable fifth with 178.24 in her senior GP debut after a poor short program put her in 10th place going into the free skate. The result means it is very unlikely that Honda will make the GP Final in Nagoya in December.

Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond won with 212.91, with Russia’s Maria Sotskova (192.52) taking second and American Ashley Wagner (183.94) third.

Honda’s grace and elegance were on full display in her short program to “The Giving,” but her technical elements left much to be desired.

“Not the start Marin Honda wanted at the senior level,” stated Bradley, after Honda fell on the back end of her planned opening triple lutz/triple toe loop combo and later singled a triple axel.

“When she couldn’t recover after that triple/triple her confidence looked shaken,” Bradley pointed out. “The flip became a loop, the axel became a single.

“You only get three jumping passes in the short, when you make mistakes your technical scores will suffer.”

Despite the technical issues, Bradley was moved by Honda’s presentation.

“She certainly has that potential,” he said. “Such beauty and grace across the ice. A real maturity that she skates with.”

Joyce is aware of the pressure that is being placed upon Honda.

“Such high expectations in Japan for her,” Joyce commented. “When she won a novice title four years ago, people were already saying she was the next Mao Asada.”

Eurosport’s Catherine Whitaker said the single axel near the end of Honda’s short program was unfortunate.

“What a terrible shame. What a skate it was up to that point,” Whitaker stated. “It was mesmerizing. I cannot believe that she is only 16. It is scandalous really that she can be that good particularly in the skating skills department. Breathtaking stuff. Then a breathtaking mistake just at the last.

“She made you forget the mistakes. That is the quality of the skating. She really holds your attention. Captivating. That is unusual for a skater of her age.”

Whitaker’s partner, Chris Howarth, admired Honda’s triple loop in the short program.

“The skating skills of this girl are wonderful,” Howarth said. “I love the linking moves into the triple loop. She did that absolutely perfectly.

“If you have joined the performance after the fall on the combination, there wasn’t a glimpse of distress or disappointment at all. She was into the program. That is the sign of a really good skater.”

Howarth was inspired by Honda’s ability to bounce back in the free skate, where she finished third and received a standing ovation for her performance to “Turandot.”

“What a difference a day makes,” he said. “She went down on the combo, singled the axel. She looked out of sorts. Didn’t let if affect her.

“She has comeback today with a sensational program. That was quite unbelievable. She has fabulous skating skills for a youngster. Things are only going to get better for her. She is on the up and up. She is going to get stronger. Her presentation is going to get better. Technically, she is brilliant.”

Howarth highlighted Honda’s double axel/triple toe loop combination in the free skate, where she landed five triples.

“That’s perfect. Lovely running edge coming out,” he analyzed. “Doesn’t lose any speed. Brilliant technique.”

Bradley also recognized the profound difference in Honda’s free skate, where she was the first competitor.

“Completely different skater. She stepped on the ice, looked poised and in control all the way throughout,” he stated. “Was not out of alignment for a single moment in that entire program.

“There is something to be said about making mistakes in the short, feeling like there is nothing to lose in the free program. It just gives you a sense of freedom.

“Your components aren’t going to be great when you skate first. If you’re the leader after the short, you’re going to get that boost.”

Rika Hongo (176.34) came in sixth behind Honda.

Bradley mentioned Hongo’s pace in her short program to “O Fortuna.”

“In the second half she picked up so much momentum,” he commented. “Rika is a technical skater. She is not going to win events on components.”

Joyce listed Hongo’s accomplishments before struggling last season.

“She had two solid seasons of competitions before her results dipped last year,” Joyce said. “She was in the top 10 at worlds twice before dipping to 16th last spring.”

After Hongo’s free skate to “Frida,” Bradley said he believes the 21-year-old is lost in the spotlight focused on her younger compatriots.

“I feel that Rika doesn’t get the buzz as some of her teammates. A lot of hype around Marin Honda, Wakaba Higuchi, Mai Mihara,” he stated. “These skaters have done so much, but overlook Rika very easily. She has been very steady over the past few years.

“She generally goes out and does just enough. She’s always in contention for these Grand Prix podiums. She is a very powerful skater. She doesn’t have the lines or the elegance on the ice. But she gets through the difficult passes and she has not really shown us any sort of meltdown.”

Cup of China up next

The Grand Prix circuit moves to Beijing this week for the Cup of China. Mai Mihara, Wakaba Higuchi and Honda will represent Japan in the women’s field that features world bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman of Canada and world junior champion Alina Zagitova.

Keiji Tanaka will be the lone male competing for the Hinomaru against a roster that includes two-time world champion Javier Fernandez and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang.

Orser on the mend

Brian Orser underwent emergency gallbladder surgery on Saturday, after falling ill while at Skate Canada, but is quickly recovering and will be attending the NHK Trophy next week in Osaka with Hanyu.

Orser thanked Japanese fans for their messages in an email to Ice Time.

“I want to thank all the incredible skating fans in Japan for all your concern and support. Thankfully I am doing well, back on my feet, and looking forward to seeing everyone in Japan at the NHK Trophy.”

I am relieved that Orser has recovered quickly. Thinking of skating without Brian is almost unimaginable.