Shoma Uno (age 20, Toyota Sports & Corporate Citizenship Dept.) is a top-level athlete competing in men's figure skating. As a silver medalist of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, his new season is off to a good start.
Starting a new season as a medalist
The opening of the 2018-19 Grand Prix of Figure Skating series on October 19th marked the full start of a new figure skating season. The fourth competition in the series was the 2018 NHK Trophy, which Uno won for the first time with superb performances in both the short program and free skating. Uno's victory secured him a spot in the 2018-19 Grand Prix Final set to get underway in Canada on December 6.
After having won silver at PyeongChang 2018, Uno admits there was a bit of a change in how he was regarded by people around him, "but there really wasn't any significant change in how I skated when competing," he adds. Even in the off season, while captivating spectators with his performances in various ice shows, you didn't get the sense that he was overly consumed with being a medalist. Uno, who is known for dedicating a lot of time to practice, is feeling confident about his physical condition: "Unlike in other years, I haven't had any injuries, even during the off season, and practices are going well," he says.
'Perfection' or 'limits': what's that?
"Never once have I ever felt that something was impossible. And honestly, I have not yet encountered the hurdles known as 'perfection' or 'limits', " says Uno, whose life has centered on figure skating ever since he took to the ice at age five. "Until I decide I've reached the limit, there isn't one," he continues.
This intentional avoidance of setting goals seems to be linked to his stoic approach of continuing to challenge himself. For Uno, who says he wants to improve "little by little, year by year, day by day," having a goal is like creating hurdles. Instead, he believes in boundless possibilities.
Not determining on his own what perfection should be, or what his limits are, aiming for a higher place by honing his skating technique and expression skills, and steadily taking on challenges that are right in front of him: those are his strengths.
His aspiration: "I never want to fall back. I want to keep on thrusting forward," he says.
Figure skating rules have been significantly revised for this season, with bigger penalties now being given for mistakes. As a result, greater demands are being placed on skaters to exhibit higher levels of perfection in jumps, spins, steps, and overall performance. When asked what the highlights of his new "Stairway to Heaven" short program and "Moonlight Sonata" free skating program are, Uno replies, a little unnerved: "Please watch the whole thing." In other words, we should keep our eyes on the level of perfection of his entire performance. Uno doesn't view the new rules as obstacles. If anything, those rules fit well with his skating philosophy, as he continues to pursue boundless possibilities.
Remembering to have fun while steadily looking forward
When asked about ways of thinking and words of wisdom he finds important, Uno answers: "Basically, I don't ask other people what they think. I think it's important for me to think by myself and find my own answers." That doesn't mean that he doesn't listen to other people's opinions. Rather, he interprets what others say in his own way and holds himself responsible for finding the answer.
Unlike some athletes who may have rituals before competing, the well-grounded Uno says that, before a competition, he adjusts himself to the surrounding environment and places great importance on sincerely listening to his own feelings. When he wants to watch other skaters' performances, he does so. For competitions in which he feels he especially needs to concentrate, he immerses himself in his own world. Even if he watches other skaters perform, it doesn't really turn up the pressure on him. That's because he views his main competitor to be himself. He also doesn't try to over-concentrate, nor does he have any superstitions. Rather, to perform well, he puts priority on being relaxed.
When conversing with Uno, you can't help but feel his spirit of acting according to his own beliefs, which comes from being strong and following a straight path. But the unexpected smiles he gives us also reveal that he simply and genuinely loves figure skating. Throughout his long skating career, "time and time again, I have felt this is really lots of fun," he says with a beaming grin. For Uno, who practices, practices and practices, being able to experience achievements through hard work is the greatest of all joys. Uno sticks to the path in which he believes and earnestly takes on the tough challenge of figure skating. That leads to confidence in his performance, and he seems to enjoy both growth and hardships.
Toward the next Olympic Winter Games less than four years from now, in Beijing, the curtain has only just been raised on Uno's challenge going forward. As he puts it: "I still have a long figure skating life ahead of me."
From such things as his comments and the atmosphere he projects, Uno often comes off has being "cute, natural, and my pace". But meeting him in person, you understand that he has his own, original way of thinking, which can even be said to be philosophical, and that he is extremely stoic. Our interview gave us a glimpse of his insatiable quest for growth and his inner strength as a top athlete who has continued to give it his best on the ice for as long as he can remember.
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