Shoma Uno caused the upset of the competition at the 2019 All Japan Championships on Sunday when he claimed the title over odds-on favourite Yuzuru Hanyu. Although Uno has claimed three previous national crowns, this was his first victory over Hanyu on home soil.

Uno had struggled earlier in the season, competing on the Grand Prix circuit without a coach, and earning the worst scores of his career. He subsequently chose Stéphane Lambiel as his new coach and is already skating like himself again.

Though it was not perfect, Uno laid down his best free skate of the season, executing a clean quad flip, two quad toes (one in combination with a double toe), and two triple Axels (one in combination with a Euler-single flip). His only other error was putting a hand down on the triple loop.

Uno earned 184.86 for the segment and with a total tally of 290.57 ascended to the top step of the podium. “I was a little more nervous than the short program, but my condition was pretty good,” the 22-year-old said. “I went into the flip thinking that even if I fall I will go on strong. When I landed it, I was so relieved I smiled. Then I almost missed my loop. Each jump felt a little tight.”

When asked how much Lambiel is helping on the technical side, Uno responded, “it may be rude to say that I’m not really looking for technical advice from my coach. I have been training with Stéphane only for a short time so far, but he is very understanding. He gives me a lot of advice, but it is not like I take everything blindly. I compare it to my past experiences and take what I feel works for me. 

“At the (PyeongChang) Olympics I got a better result than what I expected. It made me feel that I need to be strong all the time and then it became hard to enjoy skating. After two years, I realized I need to bring back joy to my skating. The free program at Internationaux de France was the best thing that happened because after that I was able to drop all the baggage I was carrying.” 

In response to a question about defeating Hanyu, Uno said he did not want to talk “too much about the placement. I know it was not his best skate, but still to top him was one of my big goals in my skating life as I was always looking up to him. This result is maybe just a coincidence, but still it means a lot to me.”

Hanyu was haunted by uncharacteristic technical problems in the free. The 25-year-old opened his program with a step out on the quad loop, followed by a clean quad Salchow, but it went downhill from there. He doubled a planned triple Lutz, stepped out of his next jump, a quad toe, received an under-rotation call on the second jump of a quad toe-triple flip combination, landed a clean triple Axel in combination with a triple toe — but again the second jump received an under-rotation call. Near the end of the program, Hanyu fell on a second triple Axel, his final jumping pass.

The Japanese superstar earned 172,95 points for the free, the third best score of the night, but with a combined total of 282.77 he finished second overall. When asked if tiredness had played a role in his performance, Hanyu said he would rather not talk about it. “Anything I say would sound like an excuse. I tried until the end to do what I could do. My six-minute warm up felt OK so it was not like I was not feeling good. It felt like my mind and body were not together. I just don’t know what to say. 

“I have felt strange since before the short program. It felt like my body was deteriorating day by day. After missing the Lutz, I was thinking hard about where I could make it up, but I just did not have physical strength to recover. I had three competitions in past five weeks…but competitive swimmers compete race after race. I felt like I am probably muscling out, or forcing my jumps. I need to relax more and jump more like myself. I’m so lucky to have a good supportive team that helped me. But even with that, this was all I could do this time.

“I am happy for Shoma. I know he was going through a difficult time. I’m glad to see him skate like himself again. Now Shoma can say he is a real Japanese champion because I was able to compete here this year.”

Yuma Kagiyama seemed unable to find his rhythm at the Junior Grand Prix Final two weeks ago, but he was on top of his game on Sunday. Sitting in seventh after the short, the 16-year-old was near flawless in the free, executing two clean quad toes — one in combination — and two triple Axels. He earned 180.58 points for the segment (second-best of the day) and a combined total of 257.99 propelled him onto the third step of the podium. “I was very happy about my score. My goal here was to attack everything,” Kagiyama explained. “I discussed with my father (his coach) that even if I fail, I should challenge on new things. My Axels were not the best jumps, but I’m glad I was able to put in two here.” 

When asked about using the same music for the long program as his father (Masakazu Kagiyama, the 1989 World Junior bronze medalist) had once used, Kagiyama said, “it was totally coincidental. After it was decided, I found out that my father also skated to it and I was happy.

“I’m so happy to be able to get a medal at these Championships, but at the same time I regret that I could not skate two clean programs.”

Keiji Tanaka finished fourth with 252.44 ahead of Shun Sato (246.50) and Kazuki Tomono (244.69).

In his final singles appearance, Daisuke Takahashi struggled technically in his long program. He stumbled out of the jump on the backend of a triple Axel combination, put his hand down on a second Axel attempt — which was downgraded — and fell on the final triple flip. The 33-year-old ranked 10th in the free with 138.36 points and finished 12th overall with a total of 204.31.

Following the announcement of the teams for Four Continents and Worlds, Hanyu confirmed he is planning to go to both competitions. “The reason I decided to go to Four Continents is that, of course, I want to get the title. But I also feel it will give me another opportunity to grow and another opportunity to accomplish the jump — you know which jump I am talking about. I definitely need a strong weapon now. I am not sure if it is worth it since it is only one point more than (quad) Lutz. Maybe it is better to do the Lutz twice — but my pride will be to succeed with that jump.”


2020 World Championships team:

Shoma Uno, Yuzuru Hanyu, Keiji Tanaka, Rika Kihira, Wakaba Higuchi, Satoko Miyahara, Riku Miura/Ryuichi Kihara, Misato Komatsubara/Tim Koleto

2020 Four Continents team:

Shoma Uno, Yuzuru Hanyu, Yuma Kagiyama, Rika Kihira, Wakaba Higuchi, Kaori Sakamoto, Riku Miura/Ryuichi Kihara, Misato Komatsubara/Tim Koleto

2020 World Junior Championships team:

Yuma Kagiyama, Shun Sato, Mana Kawabe, Tomoe Kawabata, Utana Yoshida/Shingo Nishiyama