Figure Skating | ICE TIME

The story behind Shoma Uno not teaming up with Eteri Tutberidze

by Jack Gallagher

World and Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, who recently returned from a one-month training stint in Russia with renowned coach Eteri Tutberidze, did not become a full-time member of her team because he would not consent to requirements that were compulsory to joining it, The Japan Times has learned.

When Uno spoke to the media at a national team training camp at Chukyo University on Monday, he revealed that he would be competing without a main coach this season, while also praising Eteri.

“Eteri was kind in tough circumstances,” Uno was quoted as saying. “It was a very good experience. It was a small time to practice in the environment and a small time to fit in.”

The 21-year-old, who appeared to enjoy his time in Novogorsk, did not disclose, however, why he did not decide to sign on with Tutberidze and her squad.

Ice Time has exclusively uncovered the real reason why Uno did not become a permanent member of Eteri’s team.

“Eteri has certain conditions that all her skaters must agree to,” a skating source said of the savant who has wowed the skating world with her work with Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva and others. “Shoma would not agree to them all and that is why he is not part of the team.”

The source did not elaborate on which conditions Uno would not go along with, but it is clear that Eteri was willing to take him on after their trial period together had he done so.

The three-time Japan champion told the media that he would be based at Chukyo (in Aichi Prefecture) this season and that Takeshi Honda would be his jump coach.

“Ideally I would like to train every day around athletes of the same level who are doing multiple quads,” Uno commented.

Uno also announced that he would be going to Switzerland in September to spend time working with Stephane Lambiel, who was a guest instructor at the camp for senior skaters.

Uno’s decision to go it alone, while not common, is not unprecedented.

World champions Mao Asada, Michelle Kwan and Patrick Chan all went without a coach at some point in their careers.

Ice Time reached out to some experts for their opinions on Uno’s non-move, which has been the focus of much speculation in the global skating community.

Legendary skating writer Phil Hersh, took the time to write from Peru while on vacation with his thoughts on Uno.

“It seems to me that this is a perfect season to do such experimentation — the second season of the Olympic cycle,” Hersh wrote in an email. “Apparently — and this is just conjecture on my part — he did not yet find a coach with whom there was a strong personal connection. Better to be sure than drag yourself to another country and then find that doesn’t work. Sounds like a very mature decision to me.”

ISU Junior Grand Prix announcer Ted Barton offered a similar viewpoint.

“Well, at this stage of a skater’s career much has already been learned and it is more the relationship and small details of understanding the skater that a coach can most effect,” Barton wrote in an email. “So, maybe for Shoma it will be a part of his personal journey when he learns more about himself. Can he be inspired to learn on his own? Can he motivate himself on the days he does not feel like working hard?”

Barton emphasized the importance of a decision like this for an elite skater like Uno.

“There are lots of questions that Shoma will face, but the good news is that going through this experience he will better know exactly what he needs in moving forward,” Barton noted. “Finding a competitive training family environment will go a long way to filling the coaching void.”

The skating source felt that Uno, who split with longtime mentor Machiko Yamada last month, has been freelancing for a while and that he wasn’t the only recent Olympic medalist who had been taking that approach.

“When Patrick Chan and Michelle Kwan did that, they were trying to find some coach and decided to train by themselves,” the source stated. “But in the case of Shoma, I don’t really know what his coach was doing with him. It looks like he was already doing a lot of things by himself.”

Then came an interesting observation.

“This is also the case with Yuzu,” the source said. “From what I have heard, he is working a little bit with Brian Orser, but it’s likes he decides everything by himself.”

Honda’s new plan

Uno’s coaching situation was not the only one addressed at the camp. Marin Honda informed the media that she would be splitting time this season between the United States and Japan.

Honda’s plan is to train in Southern California with coach Rafael Arutunian part of the time and at the Kansai University rink the rest of it.

Ice Time believes this is a profoundly bad decision by Honda, who will turn 18 next month. It again calls into question her mental fortitude and real determination to succeed in the sport.

Coming off a very poor season, which saw her finish eighth at Skate America, sixth at the Internationaux de France, and a shocking 15th at the Japan nationals, the Kyoto native should be bearing down and seriously focusing on her career.

The idea that a two-country arrangement is the solution to Honda’s woes comes off as complete folly. It sounds more like a case of homesickness than anything else.

When Ice Time interviewed Arutunian last year, shortly after Honda had decided to join forces with him, he confirmed that he had requested that she promise to give him two full seasons to try and improve her fortunes.

“I suggested to them that they give me time,” Arutunian told Ice Time in May 2018. “I know that it takes not less than two years to understand my approach. So they promised to give me two years. I’m hoping they will.”

Arutunian went on to say at the time that he is not a miracle worker.

“Whenever anybody comes to me, I say to them, ‘Can you give me some time? I’m not a magician,” he said. “To make a change in three months or half a year, it’s impossible. It’s a process.”

Honda has been given only one Grand Prix assignment (Cup of China) at this point. She could still get the host selection spot for the NHK Trophy later in the GP season.

However, the view here is that after last season’s results, she was lucky to even get the one assignment. Honda is trading on her results as a junior now, but if she doesn’t produce this campaign, she could find herself completely out of the picture going forward.

All-time skater rankings

Ice Time came across something very interesting recently. AinsworthSports.com is a website that collates rankings in various sports for the all-time greatest competitors in each.

With skating, the site relies on results at the Olympics and world championships.

The site offered an explanation for its ranking system:

✹ The athletes receive a rating that is not posted on the website.

✹ The rating for figure skaters is their best finish in an event, plus a fraction of the average ranking in all of their events.

✹ The number of events that the athlete competed in is also factored into the athlete’s rating. The number of events competed in is a small fraction of the rating.

Ice Time’s research showed that Japan has six male and seven female skaters placed among the all-time top 100 on the site, led by two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and three-time world titlist Mao Asada.

The rankings are certain to stimulate debate in the skating community, so here are the top 10 men and women along with Japanese skaters in the top 100:

Men

1. Dick Button (USA)

2. Ulrich Salchow (Sweden)

3. Karl Schafer (Austria)

4. Gillis Grafstrom (Sweden)

5. Alexei Yagudin (Russia)

6. Hayes Jenkins (USA)

7. Scott Hamilton (USA)

8. Willy Bockl (Austria)

9. Evgeni Plushenko (Russia)

10. Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan)

38. Daisuke Takahashi (Japan)

55. Shoma Uno (Japan)

76. Tatsuki Machida (Japan)

78. Takahiko Kozuka (Japan)

86. Takeshi Honda (Japan)

Women

1. Sonja Henie (Norway)

2. Katarina Witt (Germany)

3. Carol Heiss (USA)

4. Herma Szabo (Austria)

5. Michelle Kwan (USA)

6. Sjoukje Dijkstra (Netherlands)

7. Lily Kronberger (Hungary)

8. Peggy Fleming (USA)

9. Yuna Kim (South Korea)

10. Tenley Albright (USA)

11. Mao Asada (Japan)

25. Miki Ando (Japan)

27. Shizuka Arakawa (Japan)

33. Midori Ito (Japan)

46. Yuka Sato (Japan)

68. Fumie Suguri (Japan)

91. Satoko Miyahara (Japan)

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5