Games played by Shoma Uno

Shoma Uno turns 21

This article was originally published on December 17th 2018, when the Japanese skater Shoma Uno turned 21. The Russian original is available in my blog on sports.ru. Since then, the Chinese translation was published here.

Shoma Uno (aka Syoma, Shomachka, Sho, Shomiko, ‘malyshatina’ [TAT], Prince, Shomajesty, His Royal Hotness, and so on) turns 21 today. He is undoubtedly one of the most charming figure skaters whose talent never ceases to impress his fans all over the world. Shoma is one of the most successful competitors at the moment as well: he won silver at all important events in the past few years (Olympics, Worlds 2017 and 2018, Four Continents, and the Grand prix final 2017 and 2018); since 2016, he medalled in 21 competitions in a row, and won either gold or silver in the last 13 of those; he was the first to try and successfully land a quadruple flip; he holds the now historical record for the junior short program; and so on and so forth. His skating is truly unique and instantly recognizable, yet capable of embracing a wide variety of diverse musical styles: classics, jazz, flamenco, tango, hip-hop, club music… A skater with a powerful charisma on the ice and a charming nonchalance and frankness outside.

All one can wish to Shoma on his birthday is to skate more unforgettable programs in the future, always move forward and conquer new heights, to win over himself, and to believe in his own strength. To celebrate Shoma’s birthday, the once-and-for-all-shoomed author of this blog (and a distinguished doctor in the Shospital) would like to provoke his readers to imagine what would happen if Shoma … were not a figure skater. Does he have any other talents? Would he stand any chance in other disciplines? Would he medal or perhaps even strike gold, had Mao Asada not lured him once into becoming a figure skater? What would happen if …?

Let’s embrace our world of imagination and enjoy games played (with us) by Shoma Uno.

1. Basketball

It is only appropriate to start with the most unlikely sport for Shoma — with basketball.

On May 6th, 2018, Shoma was officially invited as a star guest to open a basketball game between Alvark Tokyo and Kyoto Hannaryz. During the game itself, Shoma managed to

a) make the local mascot Rook fall in love with him,

b) participate in the opening and the best player award ceremony at the end of the game,

c) throw the ball.

Let’s focus on this last activity, which is particularly intriguing from our perspective: does Shoma have any chances in this game? Does his shooting talent matches that of Stephen Curry?

What we can see on this video is Shoma

1) succeeding in a short-range shot (but to be brutally honest, his percentage here was not brilliant),

2) scoring a free throw (1 out of 1, 100% — that sounds quite encouraging!), and

3) alas, missing a 3-pointer by some distance. The ball has not even reached the ring! His long-range shooting technique does look forced and vulnerable here — clearly, lots of hard work lies ahead, should Shoma decide to join a basketball team.

Even though Shoma is justly famous for his work ethic and character, so there is no doubt he can considerably improve his shooting technique in the long run, one cannot but notice one particular problem here… It’s his… His 158…

It’s his height. Every single cm of Shoma is priceless, no doubt, but there’s just too few of them in this tiny little creature. Not enough for basketball. We have no choice except give him 1 out of 10 for this game and move on.

After all, basketball is still an option for his warm-ups.

2. Volleyball

Shoma’s multiple talents in volleyball had long remained neglected, until the author’s attentive eyes caught this video of him playing volleyball with his physical trainer Demi-san.

That’s a lot of useful material for our purposes.

Shoma seems to be confident enough to attempt a very smart underhand serve, but it clearly needs some further work.

Here’s his aggressive attacking spike. You would not want to stand in his way when he attacks like this, would you?..

Oh no, you clearly would not… He’s turning into a monster when it comes to ‘attack!!!’.

Based on this evidence, we might assume that Shoma has quite realistic chances in volleyball. What a shame that many of his strengths here are undermined by his… By his 158…

*Sigh* We give him 2/10 and move further on.

3. Soccer/football.

No rating such as ours would ever be complete without the most popular sports all over the world, soccer. Assisted by his brother Itsuki, Shoma showed us some of his amazing soccer skills on August 19th, when he was invited to participate in the kick-in ceremony for the Nagoya Grampus vs. Sagan Tosu J1 League match.

His kick was impressive, wasn’t it?

During his warm-up that preceded this unforgettable kick, Shoma demonstrated lots of other good stuff that make his prospects as a potential soccer player look fairly promising.

His most impressive soccer move came on an entirely different occasion though, totally unrelated to any particular soccer event: it happened in Chicago during a summer training camp. While having fun in the locker area, Shoma’s coach Alex Ouriashev kicked a soccer ball with some power, aiming to score a goal while Shoma was helplessly sitting on a bench, unaware of Alex’s treacherous scheme. Shoma, however, still sitting where he was and not even showing any sign of anxiety or uneasiness, effortlessly defended his bench by blocking the attempted shot. That’s some goalkeeping!..

What can we say about Shoma’s soccer skills? Could he potentially top Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and become the best soccer player in the history? Or did we perhaps lose a new Gianluigi Buffon in Shoma? I think the answer is still rather no than yes (and yes, for a goalkeeper his height is yet again a disadvantage…).

I give him 3/10 in soccer. Now, let’s move on and see if Shoma can offer us something unique in games without balls. Or at least with smaller balls. It seems he has some troubles handling bigger balls…

4. Artistic gymnastics.

Shoma is well-known in figure skating for some of his acrobatic tricks, particularly cantilever — his signature trick.

His flexibility, too, is legendary: this is probably due to his regular classic ballet training.

There is no surprise then that Shoma is able to sit and relax in this very weird and seemingly uncomfortable position during his long bus travels:

And while at a photo shoot, he would suddenly take this peculiar position to rub his legs:

His warm-ups include a complex series of exercises on the floor that would make even distinguished gymnasts feel jealous.

To sum up, Shoma looks really promising, but it’s difficult to avoid the impression that the repertoire of his tricks is still rather limited — without any direct evidence regarding Shoma’s skills on a pommel horse, still rings, vault (his quadruple flip might count for a good and innovative vault though…), parallel bars and a horizontal bar, we cannot really say he’s a contender for top spots.

4/10 seems generous enough.

5. Snooker.

Shoma is famously quite a snooker fan. Let us see how good are his cueing, potting, cut shots, plants, and cannons.

In the video below, Shoma prepares a tricky shot — he explains the position and his plan, prefigures the pot and the position that other balls will occupy after his success, and how this would affect the clearance that he is about to make. And…

Oh no, he seemed to fail — if only he was not trying an impossible trick shot by missing all balls on the table.

Shoma deserves another chance though. A new position, a new attempt, Shoma plans another difficult pot, he aims at the cue ball and…

He makes it this time! What a shame he potted the cue ball…

OK, Shoma has to work really hard here to reach anywhere near Ronnie O’Sullivane. I give him 1/10 for snooker. Well, OK, perhaps let’s give him 2/10 — after all, he was attempting some really tricky pots here.

6. Darts.

Shoma made an impressive appearance on one Japanese TV program, in which he was asked to show his skills in card tricks, spun around a vertical axis and attempted a 3-wheel bike ride (spoiler: he did not make it too far…), and, finally, played some darts. This is worth watching closely.

In his first series of throws, Shoma hit the bullseye two times out of three attempts, shocking not only the two hosts of the show, but even his instructor — a professional darts player.

After his first throw in the second series, all he needed for the win was hitting the ‘5’. As the tension was building up, Shoma prepared himself for the throw, swung his hand, and…

A marvelous win!

His composure, competitiveness, preciseness, keen eyes, and a steady hand — all this makes Shoma a very promising darts player, a realistic contender for the top spot. I take off my hat and give Shoma a full 9/10. Why not 10? Because there’s always room for improvement.

7. Video games (eSports).

Playing video games on his phone, in Shoma’s own words, is not a hobby — it’s his job. Thankfully, it’s the job Shoma loves, too. One can see Shoma with a phone in his hand almost everywhere:

in his hotel room,

during warm-ups and stretching,

when eating,

arriving or leaving,

during photo shoots,

after a skate,

and so on.

From Shoma’s interviews, we know that his favorite video games are Vainglory, Knives Out and Shadowverse. He must be very good in those, although we don’t know exactly how. Even the very fact that Shoma’s silver medal at the Olympics has been celebrated by the producer of Vainglory with this short video, makes it clear that Shoma’s interests are far from amateurish.

It has been rumored that Shoma had a silver status in Vainglory… Yes, silver! That must be indicative of a very serious level of gaming. Had Shoma not become a figure skater, it seems very likely he could have pursued this path and perhaps earned glory as a professional Vainglory gamer. There is still a possibility that Shoma will take this career path after he retires from figure skating. Whatever is the case, I have no other option as to give him 9/10.

Time to draw some conclusions.

Shoma Uno is an athlete with multiple talents. There is no doubt that Shoma would have been a serious contender for top spots in other sports, had he not chosen to compete in figure skating. But that would mean not being able to see his wonderful skating (‘a master-class in skating skills’, to quote Kurt Browning), that would mean missing all his memorable programs. That would mean not witnessing his struggles, his fights against others, against his injuries, and against himself. Not seeing his wins. Not seeing his smiles and his tears. His competitive spirit, his amazing character, his charisma. All this beauty that he shares with us. This means losing all this.

Because as a figure skater, Shoma deserves the highest mark — 10/10. And so we should be grateful to Mao Asada for pulling Shoma in this sport, to Daisuke Takahashi for becoming his idol, and to Shoma himself for being so adorable, for becoming a new idol for new generations of skaters in and outside Japan.

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