GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Far from resenting the overwhelming fame of Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan’s Shoma Uno finds it relaxing to be attending his first Winter Games in his compatriot’s shadow.
Known as a phenomenal jumper who in 2016 became the first to successfully land a quadruple flip in competition, the 20-year-old Uno is hot on the heels of Hanyu in an increasing number of podium finishes and took silver at last year’s Grand Prix Final.
Compared to Hanyu, who is followed around the world by passionate fans who scream “Yuzu” and toss dozens of stuffed animals onto the ice after his performances, Uno’s share of fan adulation is distinctly lower.
But Uno, known to some as “Pocket Rocket” for his diminutive stature and jumping ability, does not mind at all.
“It allows me to really relax,” he told reporters with a grin after a practice session at the coastal city of Gangneung’s rink on Wednesday.
“Because I’m in his shadow, I’m not under nearly as much pressure. But I hope to become the kind of skater who can stand up under just as much (as he does).”
Skating to the “Winter” section of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, Uno landed several clean jumps but broke off practice several times to consult with his coach, although he said this did not signal any problems.
“Actually, I think my jumps were higher than usual today,” he said, adding that he planned to stick mainly with the jumps he feels most comfortable with during the Olympics.
“I’m not putting in anything new like a quad Salchow.”
Hanyu, who trains in Canada under former Olympian Brian Orser, has been largely out of sight since suffering a leg injury while practicing a jump ahead of the NHK Trophy in November, an event he missed.
The original ligament injury was reportedly complicated by muscle and bone infections.
Hanyu was not due to arrive in South Korea until Feb. 11, a rink official said, but Orser told reporters on Tuesday that he was in good form and ready to defend his title.
Should Hanyu achieve back-to-back golds, he will be the first man to do so in 66 years, although he has to defeat a number of strong rivals, including U.S. skater Nathan Chen, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, and China’s Boyang Jin.
Chen avoided direct comment when asked if Hanyu’s absence from competition gave him an advantage.
“I can only focus on myself since I’ll be on the ice by myself,” he told reporters after practice. “All I can focus on is doing what I can to put on a good performance.”
Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by John O'Brien