June 18, 2024

Bionpa

You are Your Only Limit

A look back on the incredible career of Shoma Uno

16 min read

By Team FSO
Photos by Robin Ritoss

On May 9, Shoma Uno announced his retirement from competitive skating on his Instagram account. He then formally announced it during a press conference May 14.

The 26-year-old from Nagoya, Japan has surely left his mark in the sport of figure skating, with three Olympic medals, two World titles, a Four Continents title, a Grand Prix Final title, and also six Japanese titles. In addition, he has won fourteen medals on the Grand Prix circuit, and also found success on the junior level, winning the World Junior title and winning medals at the Winter Youth Olympics. He is considered one of the most successful Japanese male figure skaters of all-time.

As the competitive skating world says goodbye to Uno, Figure Skaters Online looks back on his career, as well as shares some thoughts on Uno from our writing team and from fans.

Juniors

Before his jump to the senior circuit, Uno found success on the junior ranks. In his first season on the Junior Grand Prix Series (JGP) in 2010-2011, he won the silver medal at the JGP event in Germany. The next season, he earned the bronze medal at the JGP in Estonia before he won two medals at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics, silver in the individual event and gold in the team event. He also won bronze in Latvia at the JGP in 2013. In his final junior season, which was the 2014-2015 season, he received the silver medal at the JGP in Japan and won his first JGP event before winning the Junior Grand Prix Final in his first appearance. A few months later, Uno won the World Junior Championships in his fourth appearance in the event. He became the fifth Japanese man to win the junior world title.

Moving up to senior

Like many skaters, Uno straddled both the junior and senior levels. His first senior international event was the 2014 Gardena Spring Trophy, which he won. In 2015, before he won his Junior World title, he finished fifth at the Four Continents Championships and also won gold at the Asian Winter Games. The 2015-2016 season marked Uno’s first full senior season. He started that season with a 5th place finish at the 2015 U.S. Classic. In his first senior Grand Prix season, he won silver at Skate America. He competed at the 2015 Trophee Eric Bompard, where he won the short program, but the free skate was cancelled due to the terrorist attacks in Paris. The short program standings were the final results for the event, so with a gold and silver at his two Grand Prix events, Uno was able to qualify for the 2015-2016 Grand Prix Final. He took the bronze in his first appearance at the Grand Prix Final. In the second half of the season, Uno just missed the podium at Four Continents, and would place 7th at his first senior World Championships. He would later make history at the 2016 Team Challenge Cup by becoming the first skater ever to land a quadruple flip at an international competition.

2016-2017 Season

The 2016-2017 season marked a lot of firsts for Uno. Along with winning his second consecutive bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final, Uno would later win his first National title, his first Four Continents medal (a bronze) and his World medal (a silver). His season was a great lead up for the upcoming Olympic season.

2017-2018 Season

The 2018 Olympic season was full of gold and silver moments for Uno. Uno won gold at Skate Canada, silver at the Internationaux de France and the Grand Prix Final. After winning his second consecutive National title, he won silver at Four Continents. At the Olympics, he placed third in the short program and third in the free skate to take the silver in the men’s event.

“Looking back at my performance, there is no disappointment. It was close to perfect,” Uno told the media at the Olympics. “I missed the first jump, but the rest of the program was fine. I stayed calm after the mistake and was able to give a good performance.”

At the 2018 World Championships, he earned his second consecutive World silver medal.

2018-2019 Season

After the Olympics, Uno showed no signs of slowing down. He won both of his Grand Prix events, Skate Canada International and NHK Trophy to qualify for his fourth Grand Prix Final. At the Final, he won his second consecutive Grand Prix Final silver medal. A few weeks later, he successfully defended his national title, winning by a margin of almost 50 points. He would later win his first Four Continents Championship, which was the first time he won a major international competition. At the 2019 World Championships, Uno finished in fourth place. 

At the end of the 2018-2019 season, Uno announced that he would no longer be coached by Machiko Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi, who were his longtime coaches. At the time, Uno didn’t announce who his new coaches would be. He visited a few training facilities.

2019-2020 Season

The start of the 2019-2020 season was a tough one for Uno. Though he won gold at Finlandia Trophy, he would finish in eighth-place at the International de France, which marked his worst-ever result at a senior international competition. Before he competed at Rostelecom Cup, he spent time working with two-time World champion Stéphane Lambiel. He earned a fourth place result at Rostelecom Cup and failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. Before the Japan Figure Skating Championships, Uno announced that he would train full-time under Lambiel in Switzerland. Uno won his fourth Japanese title, this time beating two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who was competing at his first Japanese Championships since the 2016-2017 season. Uno did not compete at Four Continents that season, but instead, competed at Challenge Cup, where he won the gold medal. He was scheduled to compete at the World Championships in 2020, but the event was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2020-2021 Season

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted the 2020-2021 season. Uno did not compete in any Grand Prix events as either events were cancelled or held as domestic competitions. His first event of the season was the Japan Championships, where he was unable to defend his title this time and finished second to Hanyu. At the 2021 World Championships, he finished fourth.

2021-2022 Season

Uno’s 2022 Olympic season started with a second place finish at 2021 Skate America behind Team USA’s Vincent Zhou. At his second Grand Prix event, NHK Trophy, this time, Uno defeated Zhou to win gold. Uno did qualify for the Grand Prix Final, but it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 Omicron variant. At the 2021-2022 Japan Championships, Uno was second yet again to Hanyu, but was still named to his second Japanese Olympic team. At the 2022 Olympics, Uno was apart of the Japanese team in the team event, and won the bronze medal, his second Olympic medal. Just days later, Uno won his third Olympic medal, finishing behind Team USA’s Nathan Chen and teammate Yuma Kagiyama to claim the bronze medal.

“I failed in the second and third jump,” Uno said following his free skate at the Olympics. “I guess I did get nervous. But I thought I must do as much as I can in the second half. I have World Championships coming. I believe I’ll deliver an even better program then.”

At the 2022 Worlds Championships, with Chen and Hanyu both absent, Uno was one of the contenders for the gold medal. He won the short program ahead of Kagiyama. While he had mistakes in the free skate, he won the free skate and the World title to become the third Japanese man to win the World Championships.

“This was my last short and free program for this season, so I wanted to have a performance that made my coach Stephane Lambiel proud. I was able to achieve that and I haven’t won too often, so I’m very happy about that,” the then 24-year-old said at the time.

2022-2023 Season

Uno began the season following the 2022 Olympics at Skate Canada International, where he won his third gold medal at the event. At NHK Trophy, Uno rallied in the free skate to move up from second to win his third NHK title. At the 2022-2023 Grand Prix Final, the first Grand Prix Final for Uno since the 2018-2019 season, Uno won the Grand Prix Final for the first time and completed his first career Grand Slam in figure skating.

Following the Grand Prix Final, Uno won his fifth national title. At the 2023 World Championships in Saitama, despite dealing with ankle injury before the event, Uno won the short program and the free skate to win his second consecutive gold medal at the World Championships. He was the first man from Japan to win back-to-back world titles since 1896. Uno also went undefeated on the season, winning gold at all five events he competed in. 

Honestly, I’m just happy that in both short program and free skating I did better than I expected,” Uno said then.

“Today’s performance was far from perfect, but I put out everything I can do at this moment,” he added. “There were many shaky jumps today, but I’m happy I was able to get a good result despite not being in a good condition these past two weeks.”

2023-2024 Season

Uno kicked off his season season Cup of China, where he finished second to European champion Adam Siao Him Fa. He went on to win another silver medal at the 2023 NHK Trophy. At the 2023-2024 Grand Prix Final, he finished second behind Team USA’s Ilia Malinin. 

Looking to win his sixth national title, Uno won the short program at the 2023-2024 Japan Championships, but finished second in the free skate. He was able to remain in first place to win his sixth national title.

At the 2024 World Championships in Montreal, Uno won the short program with a clean skate, but had a difficult free skate with multiple jump errors. He finished sixth in the free skate and dropped to fourth place overall, missing the podium by 3.54 points.

“I put my heart into this free program, aimed to make everyone who watched me perform happy, and this is the result I got. It truly reflects who I am, regardless of how I did today. I visualized how I would do my free program beforehand and looking back on everything, it was an exhilarating experience overall,” Uno told the media following his skate.

Uno announced his retirement on Instagram May 9, 2024, and held a press conference May 14, 2024. He said he’s looking forward to the next chapter and the chance to skate in a non-competitive setting.

“I feel very positive about my retirement,” Uno said at a news conference on May 14. “I have no regrets.”

Team FSO’s memories of Shoma

Gina Capellazzi, Team FSO website administrator

The first time I saw Shoma Uno compete in-person was at the 2016 World Championships in Boston, which was his first senior Worlds and my first Worlds as credentialed media. He was fourth after the short program and then finished seventh overall, but I remember saying that he had a lot of potential and we would be seeing a lot more of him in the future.

However, as he climbed the ranks and mounted medal upon medal, it would be a five years until I would see him skate in-person again. The next time I would see him would be 2021 Skate America in Las Vegas. By this time, he was an Olympic silver medalist and two-time World silver medalist. At Skate America, he claimed the silver medal behind Team USA’s Vincent Zhou.

Again, more time would pass before I would see him skate in-person again. In March of this year, at my second World Championships, I saw the now two-time World champion and three-time Olympic medalist win the short program with a clean skate and a season’s best score of 107.72. He was in a good position to win his third World Championships, but it wasn’t meant to be as Uno struggled in the free skate and would drop to fourth overall. Little did I know, nor did the fans inside the Bell Centre in Montreal know, that it would be Uno’s last competitive skate.

When Uno announced his retirement, I thought back on the three opportunities that I got to see him skate in-person. I didn’t realize that I witnessed sort of the “bookends” of his career, from his first senior Worlds to his last. I recalled the words that I said in 2016, and boy did he ever deliver on that! Not only with the accolades, but also with his creative and intricate programs that not only pushed the technical envelope, but also were filled with so much artistry and emotion. While he may have never achieved Olympic gold, Uno’s career is one that I’ll never forget and I was glad to follow his career over the last eight years. He’s surely going to be missed.

Claire Cloutier, A Divine Sport and Team FSO contributing writer

Shoma Uno won a lot of silver medals in his career, at the biggest events in the sport (2018 Olympics, 2017 and 2018 Worlds, and more).  But for me personally, Shoma is linked with “firsts.”

Shoma competed at the very first skating competition that I ever traveled to, which was 2015 Skate America in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My memories of this event still feel very vivid; I was so excited to be at my first “away” event! That competition was also Shoma’s first senior Grand Prix. In practice, I noticed immediately his wonderful skating skills and smooth glide over the ice. In the free skate, I saw another of his characteristic qualities–his ability to create passion and drama through his skating (always so musically aware). That was the year Shoma skated to Turandot in a bright green velvet costume. I loved everything about it! I remember distinctly how the crowd went wild when he did a cantilever at a climactic moment in his long program, and he got a huge standing ovation. I hadn’t really been aware of Shoma before, but at that moment, it was evident he was a star.

In 2019, I attended my first Four Continents in Anaheim, California. I was so excited to be covering my first major ISU championship! Shoma was there too … and coincidentally, I saw him win his first major ISU championship in Anaheim, skating brilliantly in a strong men’s field. I was really pleased to see him finally break his “silver streak” to take a well-deserved gold! I remember going to interview him in the mixed zone and not even being able to see him, because there were so many Japanese journalists pressing to capture his every word.

A few years later came more “firsts.” In 2022, I was accredited to cover the World Championships in Montpellier, France–my first Worlds as a skating journalist! And one of the best moments in Montpellier was witnessing Shoma finally win his first World title with his intriguing, creative Bolero long program. I so much enjoyed watching him on the ice, in press conferences, and on the podium in Montpellier. To see him finally reach the pinnacle of the sport, after eight years in seniors, was really special.

So this is why, when I think of Shoma, I will always think of “firsts.”

Scott Mammoser, Team FSO writer

I had the pleasure of covering Shoma Uno for three gold medal-winning competitions: the 2018 NHK Trophy in Hiroshima, the 2019 Four Continents in Anaheim, and the 2022 Grand Prix Final in Torino. His 197.36 score in the free skate at Anaheim surpassed Yuzuru Hanyu’s world record. The next month, both Hanyu and Nathan Chen would elevate the record at Worlds. Despite standing in the shadow of those two for much of his career, Uno certainly ranks among the sport’s all-time greats.

Matteo Morelli, Team FSO writer
The first time I saw Shoma Uno in person was at the Internationaux de France 2019 in Grenoble. That was the year that he decided to not have a coach, and sadly the free programme he delivered at that event ended in a bit of a tragedy with him by himself on the kiss and cry in tears. However, the audience showed so much support to him and he could feel that, trying to smile as much as he could despite of the undesired outcome. It was in that moment that I truly realised how much he meant to the skating community, whether they were fans of him or not. From then, his partnership with Lambiel paid off and showed what a resilient and strong skater he is, and how much more he had to give to the sport. Congratulations on a fantastic career!

Maura Sullivan Hill, Team FSO writer
My favorite Shoma memory is from Skate America 2016:

Back in 2016, Shoma Uno was the only skater including a quad flip in his programs. I was fortunate to be in the audience at Skate America in October 2016 and see him land one of those incredible quad flips in person. I was sitting with friends from my college skating team, and our seats were on the side of the ice where the flip was planned as the first element in his program. He came down the ice so confidently and landed a perfect quad flip right in front of us, almost as if it was as easy as a triple. A quad flip at that time seemed almost super human, and I remember us all being in awe. Then, it felt like such a privilege to get to see a quad flip in person — though it is a bit more common these days. I’ve enjoyed watching Uno perform in the eight years since that competition and wish him all the best in retirement!

Fan favorite programs/memories/moments

From X

@einabler

I always replay Turandot in PyeongChang 2018 every now and then because it makes me feel motivated. After a fall on the 4Lo, he quickly gets up and gives his all until the very end. It was so moving and made a great closing performance for the men’s event.

@Pochelle3

2023 Air on a G String. I’ve watched it many many times.

@IAmTheLuckiest7

One of my most favorite Shoma’s program is “Dancing On My Own,” especially the one at Challenge Cup. I have watched it over and over again. An announcement saying “Thank you Shoma!” has stuck in my head, and I want to say it to Shoma.

@misaki_ran950u

“I have so many favorite pieces that it’s hard to choose. DanOn (Dancing on My Own), Oboe (Concerto), G String (Air on the G String). But the one that got me the most excited was “Timelapse” at NHK 2023. That recover, that finish. It was a moving performance.

@glasdeuria

“DOMO (Dancing on My Own) at Challenge Cup. His comeback program.”

@rDtp56lpyyW6Guz

“Bolero in World Champions Montepeller 2022.”

@go_shoma_

For me, the Turandot program in Pyeongchang is Shoma Uno’s signature program. I love all of his programs, but his winged, airy skating in the “Air on the G String” was the best.

@DebbieWahls
I saw Shoma live once, when he won 2019 Four Continents in Anaheim. He was magnificent. I’ll miss him.

@ReiUtada
My favorite moment of him is his Bolero at the World Championships Montepeller 2022! Really love how he smiled on the jump as he know he nailed it and will win the title.

@tunnmTmOmUxIXaJ
“My favorite moment is when he could hardly wait to give Nathan (Chen) a big hug in the green room of Beijing Olympics. That is the most beautiful thing of sportsmanship. I will always remember that.”

@alw4sh0m
“Great spirit at the 2019 Nationals. First pump and jump after the performance.”

@MeganMo2002
“Aria at Worlds (complete with the starfish), One Piece, Worlds Bolero, etc. Please include his kindness to others.”

@NaoRanman01
“Every year I feel that this season’s programs are the best and that there could be no better programs. None are alike and they are all beautiful. As soon as he stepped onto the ice, he emitted sound and brilliance, and the music itself was played with his fingertips and expressions, and the world changed in an instant. I can’t choose (my favorite program).”

@IradyZ
“With “Balada para un loco” from 2016, it was the first time I saw him skate, so I consider it a special moment. Throughout his career, I have liked his short program/free skate of 2020/2021, short program/free skate of 2022/2023, short program/free skate 2023/2024 and the exhibition “Come Together” the most.”

@tifflangston
“Bolero” and “Dancing on My Own” were absolutely stellar programs. (Almost all of them were great, but these are my faves)

@tunnmTmOmUxIXaJ
“I like the moment he tilted his head after his free skate at NHK Trophy 2021. That was so cute but it actually showed how Shoma set a high bar for himself and he could rarely be contented with himself even he won the event.”

@JessieeeLiao
“Clair de Lune is just so deeply planted inside my head.”

@JudeStFrancis
“Ladies in Lavender World Championships 2017”

@ManLiesbeth
Oboe Concerto (SP) at Worlds 2022, a masterpiece!

From Instagram

@feimeicheng:

I can recall three events in that the crowd showed their love to Shoma so much.
GPF 2015 Barcelona: Shoma did a perfect FS at his debut GPF. The crowd started to clap after Shoma’s cantilever till the last spin. The voltage in the arena was insanely high there.

Worlds2018 Milano: Shoma has foot injury at this Worlds that he had a very difficult first half in his FS but the warm clapping from the crowd helped him managed to land his jumps in the second half. He won the silver medal there and I will always remember ISU’s IG post after this event with Shoma’s photo saying “What important is not to live forever but to create something that lasts forever.”
(In different words maybe)

Grand Prix in Grenoble 2019: What happened there is the biggest catastrophe in Shoma’s career. He was there all by himself without a coach. He fell again and again in his FS but the crowd didn’t abandon him but kept clapping hard for him. He had a more than brilliant Stsq there along with the clapping. When he sank his head at Kiss&Cry, the crowd started to call his name “Shoma! Shoma! Shoma!” that somehow brought back his smiles.

I really appreciate all these supports. These moments showed how much Shoma is loved and his glorious career is not possible without this Love from the world. He will be missed very much in competitive skating.

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