Ice Network

Uno's sterling skate lifts Team Asia to singles crown

Japanese dynamo lands first-ever quad flip in competition; Wagner shines
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Members of Team Asia accept their prize money and trophies. -Getty Images

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Any notion that the inaugural KOSÉ Team Challenge Cup would be a going-though-the-motions knockoff of your typical all-star game vanished midway through Friday night's opening session.

Shoma Uno saw to that.

The 18-year-old flash from Japan made figure skating history at the Spokane Arena when he landed the first quadruple flip in competition, blowing away his challengers and leading Team Asia to what amounts to the warmup prize -- the singles short program championship.

With Uno, China's Boyang Jin and Denis Ten of Kazakhstan winning all three men's groups -- with the three highest scores of the night -- Team Asia edged Team North America, 64-62, for the team title (with points assigned on a 12-10-8 basis for placement within the groups). Team Europe -- despite an evening-best performance from Russian world champion Evgenia Medvedeva -- was third with 54 points.

Uno and Medvedeva picked up $5,000 bonuses for being the individual winners, but for all the fireworks they generated, the evening seemed more about the unusual format that transformed skaters from different nations into continental teammates.

"It was very beautiful in a way -- and not only because we have nice jackets," Ten joked. "Mostly because I did feel the support of our team. They're incredible. I just felt confident there were people behind my back, and I really felt like I was representing all of Asia."

Medvedeva, too, seemed to get as much of a boost from her multi-national teammates as she did from the crowd of 4,151.

"This is my first experience being part of a team," she said through an interpreter. "I felt it was going to be a burden on me, but to the contrary, it was motivating me."

But no one seemed more motivated than the diminutive Uno, seventh at the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston three weeks ago but king of the hill on this night.

Landing the quad flip at the beginning of his short program to the song "Legends" surely didn't hurt.

"I feel like it was 50-50, so I'm really surprised," he said. "I'm really lucky tonight that I made it."

Countryman Daisuke Takahashi had tried the jump twice back in 2010, at the world championships and Grand Prix Final, without successful landings. Uno not only pulled his off cleanly but followed with a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

"Making that flip successful made my other jumps better," said Uno, who said he began practicing the quad flip after the world championships.

"I just tried the quad flip in this competition because I want to try it more next season," he said through an interpreter. "I want to use it for my main jump."

His Asia teammates went wild in the team box above the kiss-and-cry area, but they weren't the only ones impressed.

"He's absolutely brilliant," American Jason Brown said. "What he does is truly incredible."

Uno's whopping personal-best score -- 105.74 -- was more than 12 points clear of teammate Jin, the world bronze medalist who stuck both his quad jumps in another one of the evening's more energizing programs.

Ten, meanwhile, bounced back from a disappointing 11th at worlds with a tally of 92.53 -- even after having to make emergency repairs on his skate with strapping tape and missing his warmup.

As usual, the crowd saved a big slice of love for Brown, who's been sidelined with back issues for nearly six months and was in his first competition since late October. He had a couple of hiccups but still scored 87.72 points to finish second to Jin in group 3.

"To be healthy and to be a part of this event is a victory in itself," Brown said. "I felt the energy and I wanted to bring it. I'm really thrilled."

The 16-year-old Medvedeva followed up her impressive performance at worlds with a personal-best 77.56 points in the evening's first ladies group.

That score wouldn't be threatened, although Wagner came the closest, posting a personal-best mark of 74.54.

"I am way out of shape, and I'll be the first person to tell everybody that," she said, "so I have no idea what to expect for tomorrow. But for tonight, I'm really happy with what I did."

It was another disappointing turn for Gracie Gold, who scaled back her opening triple-triple to a double-triple. She earned 71.31 points and cost Team North America a couple of placement points when she slipped behind Satoko Miyahara of Japan in a stacked group that also included Medvedeva. A second-place finish by Gold in the group could have allowed the North Americans to tie for the team title, but Uno's spectacular performance would have clinched the tiebreaker for Asia.

"I'm really proud of each (skater)," Team Asia captain Shizuka Arakawa said. "They had really high quality and high technique."

Beyond the individual bonus money, each member of Team Asia earned $10,000 for the victory, with the North Americans getting $7,000 and Europeans $5,000 each. The stakes get higher Saturday, when the skaters compete for a $465,000 purse.