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[ICE TIME] An Unwavering Drive Lifted Shoma Uno to Great Heights as a Skater

Shoma Uno, who coped with frequent hospitalizations as a child, defied the odds to become a world-class athlete and a two-time world champion. What comes next?

He did it against all the odds. And that is the inspirational life story of Shoma Uno in one sentence.

Born prematurely and weighing only 900 grams (2 pounds), Uno fit in the palm of his father's hand at birth. He was hospitalized frequently with childhood asthma and was always the smallest in his class at school growing up.

That's not exactly the formula for developing into a world-class athlete. But that is what Uno became, through hard work and perseverance. His is the kind of tale they make movies about.

Shoma Uno
Future two-time world champion Shoma Uno in an April 2010 file photo. (©SANKEI)

Not as athletically gifted as Yuzuru Hanyu, Uno combined his physical skills with outstanding artistic impression to become a two-time world champion and three-time Olympic medalist, and in doing so developed his own legion of admirers.

Uno first took the ice at the age of 5, inspired by fellow Nagoya native Mao Asada, and started an incredible journey that took him around the world and to great glory.

Shoma Uno
A message from International Skating Union president Jae Youl Kim is displayed on a giant screen at Shoma Uno's news conference on May 14. (©SANKEI)

Tributes to Shoma Uno

When the 26-year-old Uno announced his retirement from competition on May 9, the plaudits from the skating community began pouring in.

"Soft knees, elegant style & musicality, and a humble charming demeanor," wrote longtime American skating writer Lynn Rutherford on X, formerly known as Twitter. "What a great career."

Legendary skating journalist Phil Hersh, who has covered the Winter Olympics more than a dozen times, paid tribute to Uno with his own post on X, writing, "Ave atque vale (Latin for ('hail and farewell') to Shoma Uno, whose beautiful skating and evocative expressions helped him win two world titles and two Olympic singles medals."

Shoma Uno
Shoma Uno at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. (©SANKEI)

There was something special about Shoma. Years ago, when Ice Time interviewed him, I felt a powerful force in my presence. It didn't matter that he stood only 158 centimeters. He gave off a vibe that I could not forget.

Sota Yamamoto, who was a contemporary of Uno and a fellow Chukyo University graduate, saluted his friend and training partner in a May 12 post on X.

"Shoma, thanks for all your hard work during your active career!!" Yamamoto wrote. "We often practiced and competed together since we were juniors, and I was always inspired by Shoma! Shoma's performances have a special atmosphere to them and I really love them."

Shoma Uno
Shoma Uno in a file photo from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. (©SANKEI)

A Coach's Praise for Shoma Uno

Uno's longtime coach Stephane Lambiel was effusive in his praise in an Instagram post on May 10.

"I'm so happy to have had the opportunity to support you and to witness your skills, your focus, your hard work, your winning spirit, your passion, your determination, your love for the sport, and all the other amazing qualities you have demonstrated," Lambiel wrote. "You have inspired me so much and I am deeply grateful for all that I have learned by your side!"

Shoma Uno
From left, 2017 Four Continents Championships medalists Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen and Shoma Uno attend a medal ceremony in Gangneung, South Korea. (©SANKEI)

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Fond Memories of Top Rivals 

Interestingly enough, at his retirement press conference in Tokyo on May 14, Uno indicated that the departure of two of his rivals in recent years caused him to begin to ponder the time when he would also step away from competition.

"I was very sad about the retirements of Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen," Uno stated. "It felt like I was being left behind when I heard of the retirement of friends I had competed with for many years. That was how I began to think about my retirement."

Uno saluted the two men who have won the last three Olympic singles gold medals.

"They were from a level above, wonderful skaters who I always wanted to compete against on equal footing one day," Uno commented. "I can't say whether I reached that point, but I feel like I made my own figure skating career and gave it everything. It is their characters that I will recall more than any particular competitions against them."

Shoma Uno
Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno finished first and second, respectively, in the men's skating competition at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. (©SANKEI)

'Treasured Time' Says Yuzuru Hanyu

Hanyu, the legendary two-time Olympic champion who shared the podium at the Pyeongchang Games with Uno when the duo finished 1-2 in 2018, paid a poignant tribute to his compatriot the day after his retirement.

"We're only three years apart in age, so I look forward to simply having small talk with him and skating in the rink with him again." 

Yuzuru Hanyu

Added Hanyu, "I deeply treasure the time when we got to compete with each other on the world stage."

An Upbeat Outlook on the Future

Uno, a six-time Japan champion, was positive about the future and spoke without emotion at his press conference.

"I will continue my figure skating path, albeit as a professional," Uno said, according to Kyodo News. "There is no sense of sadness at all, given I will keep skating."

Added Uno, "Of course, it's nice to hear the voices of people who are sad (that I'm leaving competition). But this is also an announcement to say I will be giving my best ahead of my next stage and I hope they continue to enjoy supporting me."

Shoma Uno
Shoma Uno in a file photo from the 2023 World Figure Skating Championships at Saitama Super Arena. (©SANKEI)

Parting Thoughts on Shoma Uno

Though often overshadowed by Hanyu and Chen, Uno was a pioneer in his own right as the first man to successfully land a quadruple flip in international competition in 2016.

He was also a world junior champion and six-time Grand Prix Final medalist who featured a beautiful cantilever, one of the most difficult maneuvers, in his programs.

It is always sad when a great champion in a sport retires, but the final record will show that Shoma Uno made his mark on skating and will be deservedly remembered for it.


Author: Jack Gallagher

The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world's foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, and find him on X (formerly Twitter) @sportsjapan.


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