Retired Swiss figure skater Stephane Lambiel let an Olympic gold slip through his fingers 12 years ago, but he has turned his loss into a valuable lesson for Shoma Uno as the Japanese tries to do in Beijing what his coach could not.
As Uno's coach and choreographer, Lambiel, a 2006 Turin Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion, thinks the 24-year-old has a realistic chance of winning gold in Beijing, if only he can embrace his inner child.
It was something Lambiel was unable to do after coming out of a brief retirement in time for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where he went in as one of the top contenders for gold and left with only a fourth-place finish.
"If he just remembers what happened to me in 2010, when I executed almost every element correctly but I was not free enough. In the end, it's not the elements that define the score. Showing freedom will give you many more points," Lambiel told Kyodo News in a recent interview.
In 2019, nearly six months after parting ways with his long time coaches, Uno named Lambiel as his head coach and relocated to Switzerland for training.
Uno won silver in his Olympic debut in Pyeongchang in 2018, when he was still working with Machiko Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi.
Since Uno and he joined forces, Lambiel says he has watched his pupil develop nicely.
Lambiel says the most important lesson he wants Uno to internalize is to embrace the process. If he does not do that, he will not enjoy the spoils of his success, he believes.
"My biggest focus was to make him not focus so much on the result. For me it's important that when he comes to practice he has a challenge, and he's working toward that challenge, and the result doesn't really matter," Lambiel said.
"My job is to give him an environment that helps him work on the different aspects of his skating...and make new programs for the Olympic season...to provide a (strategic) framework."
According to Lambiel, Uno twisted his right ankle while landing a quad flip in December, but he has recovered to a point where he is well enough to go ahead with his planned two quads in his short program on Feb. 8 and five quads in his long program two days later.
Uno will have to perform better than gold medal favorite Nathan Chen and stop 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu's attempt at a three-peat to be a player for Beijing gold.
"It's going to be a big battle. And there are a lot of skaters that are aiming for the gold medal. Shoma has the potential to win, of course. I think his technical and artistic abilities are very strong," Lambiel said.
Complicating matters, however, earlier in the week Lambiel revealed on Instagram he tested positive for the coronavirus and is currently in isolation in Switzerland, delaying his arrival in China to guide Uno. On Saturday, Uno said he will make it to Beijing before the short program.
But as a coach who is familiar with adversity, he will deal with that speed bump like he has others.
A thigh muscle injury forced him into early retirement once, but Lambiel decided to make one last run at gold in Vancouver to take care of unfinished business.
"My problem was that I knew Vancouver was my last competition. So I had so much pressure and because of that I wanted to have a good result. That's why I was not able to perform freely."
The coach says he is looking forward to Uno's upcoming performance at the Capital Indoor Stadium, and counting on him to be his free-spirited self on the ice. He believes Uno has the potential to get a lot more than he has so far from his advanced technical abilities.
"Skating is mathematics, and we do need to have a very specific strategy...If he lands all his jumps he will get a good score. But what I want is for him to be not only a good jumper, but a great figure skater," Lambiel said.
"(Over the last four years) I think the quality of his jumps has increased, his experience increased, and his personality increased. So the fact that he has matured gives him a good chance to become No. 1 at the Olympics."
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