Koshiro Shimada was the surprise silver medalist at the 2022-23 Japanese Figure Skating Championships, which secured him his first trip to an ISU championship. While he didn’t achieve the podium finishes of his compatriots Kao Miura and Shun Sato at his debut appearance at Four Continents, it was nonetheless an important milestone for the skater.
The 21-year-old from Ehime thoroughly enjoyed the event in Colorado Springs, despite feeling a bit of stress.
“At the end, the performance was not great, but I could show what I have given that my body’s condition wasn’t super good,” Shimada reflected. “The audience was very warm and really supported me in both programs. I felt like I actually communicated with the audience during the step sequences.”
Reflecting on the 2022-23 season
For Shimada, each opportunity to compete is special. Recurring injuries and the deep field of the Japanese men resulted in him only participating in one international competition during the 2021-2022 season. He finished first at Eastern sectionals during that time and placed fourth at the 2022 Warsaw Cup—his only international event.
This past season, however, he had a full schedule: He competed at the Challenger series at Lombardia Trophy, where he took silver, before competing in his first two Grand Prix events. His highlights of the season were his fourth-place finish at the MK John Wilson Trophy and winning the silver medal at Japanese Nationals behind his training mate Shoma Uno. He emphasized that achieving a good feeling from his skating is more important than the results.
“Two years ago, I felt so disappointed after every competition,” Shimada shared. “[I did not have] beautiful skating that could give me some confidence, but this season was quite good, and I had strong spirits.”
This confidence was apparent at the Japanese Nationals where he felt it was the “best” moment of his career.
“I trusted myself more than 100% and my body’s condition was so good,” Shimada recalled. “Everything, the technical elements, my condition, and my mind, it was totally connected, like a big triangle.”
“I wanted to give everything I can at the 2022-23 Nationals,” he added. “I decided to work with a physical trainer. I wanted to come as a fighter and with a strong mindset. I was in very good shape and came with a great confidence. It was a very nice feeling after the six minutes warm-up. I knew I could do it. There were quite some mistakes during the men’s Free Skate. I heard all the scores from my competitors, and I knew it was a tough competition.”
Shimada confessed that prior to this competition, he had always struggled with hearing the scores of other skaters and that it affected his mindset.
“But at this competition, I for the first time, really didn’t care about the other competitors,” he said. “Right after the performance, I still thought I missed it, and I knew I could do much better than I did. When I heard my final score, I already knew before the number popped up that I should be first (at that moment), but I of course waited to have it confirmed to totally believe it.”
“The biggest joy for me was seeing my team and many people I care about so incredibly happy,” Shimada reflected. “What especially touched me was that my two nephews cried of joy because they saw me on the podium. That really, really touched my heart and I will always remember it!”
Many had hoped that his second-place finish would seal a spot for him on the World team. However, Shimada knew that his inconsistent results during the previous season would not help his case.
“Which was totally understandable for me,” said the skater. “Qualifying for the Four Continents had been my goal, a bonus, and I was super happy to achieve that!”
Reflecting on Four Continents, he added, “I think my mistake was looking to feel that same confidence. I was only seeing the past, which was the great nationals. It was not a great decision to try to [repeat] the feeling, because now I’m kind of a different person. My next step is to learn to adjust so I can have that feeling each time in different circumstances. It’s actually very hard, but for sure I can do it.”
Coach Lambiel strongly feels that confidence has a lot to do with life experience.
“We try to help them to get more autonomous,” said Lambiel. “We do have sessions where they skate by themselves, each skater, and this is important for them because they usually get a lot of direction, and they get a lot of attention when they are in a lesson. And of course, they need a lot of supervision. At any level, you need to have guidelines and corrections, but I think it’s also important to have the moment to digest all the information and to figure it out yourself.”
For Lambiel, this is one of the priorities when he coaches a student — to ensure that the student gets the time to understand their own needs and how to deal with their own issues and finding their solution.
“I always feel you’re much more confident when you know the answer, as when you listen to the answer,” said the coach. “If a coach gives a correction, or someone is convinced about something that works, it’s always much more efficient to have their own solution to the problem. I encourage them to find their own solution, because once they have it, it’s usually much stronger and deeper in themselves.”
Shimada also enjoyed the chance to sight-see in Colorado with his coach Stéphane Lambiel and physical trainer Akihiro Otoshi, particularly the rock formations in the “Garden of the Gods,” which are so different from the mountains where he trains in Switzerland.
After Four Continents, Shimada finished his season with a silver medal at the Coupe de Printemps competition in Luxembourg, bringing him to a total of five international competitions.
For this season, Shimada will be using “Danse Macabre” for his free skate, choreographed by Lambiel.
“We first considered to take the version with the whole orchestra which would holds a bit more tension,” he offered. “But then we found this piano version that me and Stéphane both considered very special. We both had the feeling that this is ‘the one’. It was a good feeling creating the program together with Stéphane.”
Shimada noted that the theme of this piece is about the “heavy topic of death.”
“I have the image that the death-doll is kind of dancing with the piano notes,” he explained. “At the beginning, I imagine I am waking up because I hear some sound, some piano notes. That’s the first image. Throughout the program I am getting emotional because I am discovering my dark side deep inside of me. I want to show the audience this side of me. I am actually truly still trying to find it because I am usually an optimistic and positive person.”
“I really love to skate to this outstanding piece of music,” he added. “It feels amazing!” It already feels so hard, only doing the choreo sequence! For sure this music will improve my skating skills and have some beautiful movements. I will try to be a wonderful skater with this music. In the choreography, there are many elements that create an eerie feeling. I want to convey fear and eeriness with my expression.”
However, the skater feels that it’s easier to express “your own feelings in dark pieces.”
“Of course, I also like to be cheerful and smile,” he explained. “It’s difficult to put it into words, but if I gave 100 percent of expression in Chaplin, for example, I feel that I can give 150 percent in a darker piece.”
For his short program, Shimada will repeat his 2022-23 season program to “Sing, Sing, Sing,” choreographed by Jeffrey Buttle. Both coach and skater really like the program and the “feeling” it has on competition ice.
“We changed a few things to make it more interesting and complicated to improve on the PCS, skating-skill wise,” said Shimada. “I kept the program because Stéphane said: ‘I want to watch more of this program.’ I myself initially thought of changing the music. but I learned from last year, were I kept my ‘Charlie Chaplin’ free program, that it gets much easier during the second year. The feeling gets better, and you can perform it with higher quality.”
Training in Champéry
Shimada has been training with Lambiel in Champéry, Switzerland since 2017, and is thrilled with the training atmosphere.
“I was so nervous when I came here six years ago,” said the skater. “I didn’t speak any English, but I already knew Stéphane and trusted him. But I would tell the little boy from back then: ‘Don’t worry. All the people are so kind and generous. There will be of course hard moments, but all the moments are so special, and you will have wonderful connections with the people around you!'”
“It’s always amazing!” said Shimada. “The coaches are the best, and also, Christopher [Trevisan], who directs the Skating School [of Switzerland], they make an environment that is so good for the skater. They all have a passion and love for skating. Their passion pushes me a lot and supports me a lot, and I’m really feeling that it has become more natural to communicate with the coaches. Now there are not so many people in the senior category, like for example, Shoma is mostly staying in Japan, so only Deniss [Vasiljevs] and me are skating in Champéry.”
“It’s always amazing to train with Deniss,” he added, saying that he inspires him to be an artistically well-rounded skater. “He pushes [himself] a lot, and he tries to push me a lot, you know? So, it’s quite a good situation right now! I really respect Deniss’ performance. I watched his [European Championship performance], he was so beautiful, even with the result that was not great for him. I love that kind of spirit, that feeling that he wants to be a wonderful skater, which is not only having the quads, but beautiful programs.”
Although there are not many senior skaters who train in Champéry, there are “older” skaters who motivate Shimada in what he calls a “really wonderful environment.”
Shimada also does a little bit of coaching in the learn-to-skate program in Champéry and is enjoying the experience, albeit there can be a bit of a language barrier. There is an extra challenge coaching in Switzerland, in that most of the students speak French.
“I still do not feel confident, because it’s hard to tell with some words,” he explained. “I can show them with the movement, but it’s hard to explain and find the right advice. In the future, I would like to do the coaching and some choreography. That’s my objective for the second career of my skating life. So Stéph gives me a wonderful experience there. Sometimes I tried to use French, but my French is so bad, so I speak English. I will try to get some more words in French so I can communicate more with the kids.”
While Shimada has developed strong English skills, he also is impressed with Lambiel’s Japanese.
“He’s quite good at speaking in Japanese,” said Shimada. “Very natural. Like for example, we say, ‘good work,’ meaning ‘Otsukare.’ His intonation is quite like Japanese people’s. When I talk with Shoma about figure skating, or even sometimes not about figure skating, he sometimes joins in and he understands [what we are saying], so I cannot say anything bad with Shoma!”
Lambiel can speak a few words in Japanese as he has traveled frequently to Japan. During a dinner with other coaches, Koshiro was explaining the three different alphabets that are used: hiragana, katakana and kanji.
“For us, it’s so complicated to imagine having three alphabets and trying to connect those three alphabets together,” noted Lambiel. “He was trying to educate us, but I think it would take us so many years to master that! For now, I just stick to a few words that are useful for me when I teach and that are easy to remember. I would love to know much more, but I think it’s taking a lot of time. I would need to take private lessons, and I would need to do that every day for a long time.”
Shimada’s Season’s Best scores were 89.18 in the short program and 163.33 in the free skate, but he knows he is capable of more. He discussed plans and objectives with Lambiel moving forward into the next season.
“He told me, completing the combo in the short program, and doing two triple Axels and two quads in the free skate like we practiced many times during the season,” said Shimada. “I will aim for, say, 90 points in the short program and 170 in the free. This is quite a big goal, but it’s good to have it to chase.”
Shimada has been practicing the quad Lutz, but it’s not quite ready.
“It’s rather for fun,” he said. “I wanted to put it in the program, but probably not this year. I want to show a clean performance with two beautiful quads, that’s more important to me at the moment!”
Lambiel acknowledged that the skater had great competitions last season. Notably, the short program did a bit better.
“I really want him to be able to use all the opportunities he has throughout the beginning of the season to build up the confidence throughout the competition and recover well from one program to the second one,” said the coach. “To be steady and ready for the second program so that he goes with the same confidence in the short and in the free. Also, use all the competitions to feel more comfortable with his new free program, to ‘Danse Macabre’ and to create the atmosphere of this piece of music. I think it suits him very well, the character and the atmosphere.”
Another of Lambiel’s objectives for his student this season is to have him “play that role and play that character to his full potential with strong content coming from the confidence that he will build throughout the season.”
Shimada was assigned two Grand Prix events for the 2023-24 season: Grand Prix de France and Grand Prix Espoo in Finland. However, his first event of the season will be the Challenger Series in Nebelhorn.
“One big, but also hard, objective is to win this event, a gold medal at the Challenger Series,” he said. “I of course want to show my best possible performance at all competitions. My other goals are to win a Grand Prix medal, podium again at Nationals and make the World team. It’s the main goal, I would say, and I want to meet there with Deniss!”
As for the future, Shimada will always want to stay connected with the skating world.
“I just love figure skating!” he emphasized. “I can imagine working as a choreographer, maybe in Japan, maybe in Switzerland!”
The skater was also announced as a cast member for the “One Piece on Ice” show (Alabasta episode) alongside Shoma Uno, Keiji Tanka and Miyu Honda. Shimada will play the part of “Sanji” in the show, which will take place Aug 11-13, 2023 (Yokohama) and Sep 2-3, 2023 (Nagoya).
Personally, I’m a very big fan of ‘One Piece,'” said Shimada. “To be part of a show that combines my favorite manga with figure skating, and to be offered this opportunity, made me really happy!”
“I think this is the first time that we have had an anime story on the ice,” Shimada ventured. “The rehearsals we had in Japan went very well and I am very excited for it! There won’t be individual performances, but rather one big story told on the ice. It requires a lot of acting as we are re-telling the story. The acting part is bigger than the skating part I would say.
I am so excited to do it!”