Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno announced on Monday that he was leaving longtime coaches Machiko Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi, who he has trained with since the age of 5.
While the move should not come as a total surprise considering their extremely long association and Uno’s fourth-place showing at the world championships in Saitama in March, the big question is this: Who should he move to next if he truly wants to challenge Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen?
One source in the skating community said that at Uno’s elite level there are very few actual choices.
“Brian Orser has Hanyu and Rafael Arutunian has Nathan, so they are out,” the source noted. “If Shoma really wants to learn from a technician, he will either go to Eteri Tutberidze or Alexei Mishin.”
The two Russian giants of coaching would be logical choices for the 21-year-old Uno.
Tutberidze has become a phenomenon in recent years with her coaching of young Russian skaters. She has led Alina Zagitova to both the Olympic and world titles. At the Pyeongchang Games she had the gold and silver medalists in Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva (who now trains with Orser).
The Russian savant also coaches two-time world junior champion Alexandra Trusova, who will move up to the senior ranks this coming season. The 45-year- old mentor saw two of her skaters top the podium in Saitama in Zagitova and silver medalist Elizabet Tursynbayeva of Kazakhstan.
Ice Time learned two months ago about three-time Japan champion Uno possibly joining Tutberidze. Reports in the Russian media in recent weeks have also confirmed that Uno’s camp has talked with Tutberidze’s people.
Now that he has detached himself from Yamada and Higuchi, the match is halfway there.
The move to Moscow would make sense for Uno in more ways than one. Just as Hanyu has found refuge in Toronto from the crush of Japanese media that wants to know his every move, Uno could free himself of the constant domestic spotlight with a transfer to Russia where he could train in peace.
Ice Time requested an interview with Tutberidze last week, but she declined.
A move to Mishin would also be beneficial for Uno. The coaching legend’s resume is both extensive and impressive. Three skaters Mishin once coached, Alexei Urmanov (1994), Alexei Yagudin (2002) and Evgeni Plushenko (2006), won the Olympic gold medal in singles and he remains a force in the sport.
The 78-year-old master is based in St. Petersburg and currently directs former world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Sofia Samodurova. He also coaches Andrei Lazukin, who came in 10th at the worlds in Saitama. Adding Uno to his stable would present a new challenge for one of the greatest coaches in skating history.
Ice Time reached out to legendary skating writer Phil Hersh to ask for his thoughts on which path Uno should choose.
“It seems Shoma’s inconsistent jumps are his biggest problem,” Hersh wrote in an email. “He spent several periods working on jumps with Alex Ouriashev in the Chicago suburbs. They seemed to work well together.
“Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs is known as a jump specialist,” Hersh added. “Maybe Mishin?”
ISU Junior Grand Prix announcer Ted Barton told Ice Time that Uno’s choice was not unexpected.
“Wow, that is a big announcement but not a surprise to me,” Barton wrote in an email, when informed about Uno’s decision. “I always felt that he was one of the most dramatic and powerful skaters, but I also always felt that his jump technique was ever so slightly vulnerable. He is such a wonderful athlete that he was able to overcome minor flaws on takeoffs and for the most part he did, but as you get older one is not as quick and agile.”
Barton noted that other factors could come into play on where Uno decides to relocate his base to.
“There are a number of very good technical coaches in the world but I am not sure how much politics (nation vs. nation) or other athletes he would not want to train with (will factor in),” Barton advised. “There is Colorado and California, which both have wonderful technicians, and of course here in Canada as well.
“He does not need so much teaching as fine tuning and probably could do that with numerous different people. He would just have to be clear on what exactly needs to be adjusted or fine-tuned,” Barton continued. “He is already a great skater so there is not a lot that has to be done but some polishing and small corrections.”
While it is commonly accepted that Uno’s jumps need work, teaming up with Ouriashev full time would seem counterintuitive, as the two have already worked together the past few years and Uno is where he is now.
I asked Uno about his relationship with the Ukranian coach during an interview at the 2017 Grand Prix Final in Nagoya.
“He is like an ojii-san (grandfather) to me,” Uno stated. “A part of my family, like my regular coaches.”
With the announcements for the Grand Prix assignments just two weeks away, it is likely that Uno will move quickly to select his new coach and training base.
This will be a crucial moment for Uno, who will turn 22 in December, with an eye toward the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
The Nagoya native’s break from his comfort zone is both courageous and refreshing. Like any true competitor, Uno does not want to keep finishing in second place and knows the only way to possibly improve his results is by making a bold move.
The skating world awaits his very important decision.
Big day for juniors
The Japan Skating Federation will hold a test skate on June 15 at Chukyo University in Aichi Prefecture to determine the competitors for the coming season’s Junior Grand Prix.
The likes of Tomoe Kawabata, Rinka Watanabe, Moa Iwano, Kinayu Yokoi, Miyu Honda and others will be vying for spots in the seven-event circuit that begins in Courchevel, France, on Aug. 21.