Uno Shoma begins Olympic season with Japan Open victory

The Japanese figure skating Olympic silver medallist overcame a nervous start to top the men's free skate final, edging out Sato Shun with Beijing 2022 Winter Games just around the corner.

By Ken Browne
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Uno Shoma topped the men's final at figure skating's 2021 Japan Open with a free skate that saw him land three of four quad jumps earning 181.21 points, just ahead of Sato Shun on 179.32.

Things didn't start well for the PyeongChang 2018 silver medallist as he fell on his first quad attempt - a quad loop - before recovering impressively to land three other quad jumps and help his team to victory.

Traditionally the competition sees a showdown between Team Japan, Team Europe, and Team North America, but for the second year running we only saw Japanese skaters on the ice due to pandemic precautions.

The home skaters were organised into two teams and only performed their free skates. Their scores were then combined to decide the winner.

The two teams were:

Team Red: Sakamoto Kaori, Matsuike Rino, Kawabe Mana, Tanaka Keiji, Tomono Kazuki, Miyake Sena

Team Blue: Miyahara Satoko, Mihara Mai, Higuchi Wakaba, Uno Shoma, Sato Shun, Yamamoto Sota

Uno's free was the best of the men's final while Higuchi Wakaba won the women's final, as Team Blue claimed victory over Team Red.

Neither of two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu or reigning World silver medallist Yuma Kagiyama took part.

Uno Shoma tops Shun Sato's free skate - JUST!

Sato got off to a fast start.

The teenager laid down the gauntlet with a fine free skate performance, landing a beautiful quad Lutz to open before a sensational quad flip, quad toe-triple toe combination and another quad toe, leading to a triple Axel-Euler-triple Salchow combination.

There were a few mistakes, like the turn on the quad flip, a step out of a triple flip and a foot down on an attempted triple Axel-double toe, but overall it was a magnificent free skate from the 17-year-old, who could be destined for great things this season.

His score of 179.32 looked hard to beat.

Sato skated third from last and after Keiji Tanaka blazed through his free in typically entertaining fashion to score 163.93, it was all down to Uno - the final skater.

It was a shaky start from the Beijing 2022 Olympic medal hope as he fell on his first quad jump.

But he showed great composure to rebound with a double Salchow, building up to a triple Axel, then landing a quad flip, quad toe-double toe combination and a triple Axel-Euler-triple flip combo cleanly.

A thrill, as always, to watch Uno on the ice once more.

It was incredibly tight between himself and Sato, some experts believing that the result could have gone the younger skater's way.

But in the end the judges gave the 23-year-old a higher PCS (Program Component Scores) for superior skating, transitions, and interpretation among other categories.

It's a big confidence boost for Uno with the Beijing Games just around the corner, after a difficult year in which he has been separated from coach Stephane Lambiel for much of 2021 due to the pandemic.

When does Uno Shoma skate next?

After a fine showing at the 2021 Japan Open, Uno will next train his focus on Skate America which kicks off the Grand Prix season (22-24 October), before competing in the NHK Trophy (12-14 November) at home in Tokyo.

More dates may be added depending on the circumstances and he will also aim to qualify for his fifth Grand Prix final - which would be a first since that unforgettable 2018-19 season.

Higuchi Wakaba best of the women

Higuchi put down the best free skate of the women's competition, scoring 136.27 after a clean skate that featured some lovely elements like an opening triple Axel and a mesmerising triple Lutz-triple toe combo.

It was tight at the top of the women's competition too as 16-year-old Rino Matsuike came incredibly close to topping the final, amassing 135.12 points.

Matsuike landed seven triple jumps to Higuchi's six but her triple Axel wasn't clean, meaning the senior skater got the better of her junior contender with a slightly superior performance.

2021 Japan Open Results

Men’s free (FINAL)
1. Shoma Uno - 181.21 (93.07, 89.14, -1.00)
2. Shun Sato - 179.32 (102.22, 77.10)
3. Keiji Tanaka - 163.93 (82.03, 81.90)
4. Sota Yamamoto - 156.13 (82.49, 74.64, -1.00)
5. Kazuki Tomono - 147.44 (69.16, 79.28, -1.00)
6. Sena Miyake - 126.46 (53.58, 73.88, -1.00)

Women’s free (FINAL)
1. Wakaba Higuchi - 136.27 (69.46, 66.81)
2. Rino Matsuike - 135.12 (71.32, 63.80)
3. Mana Kawabe - 134.91 (74.79, 60.12)
4. Kaori Sakamoto - 133.26 (65.04, 69.22, -1.00)
5. Mai Mihara - 124.24 (63.12, 62.12, -1.00)
6. Satoko Miyahara - 119.69 (53.89, 66.80, -1.00)