Home Figure Skating News USA’s Taira Shinohara: From soccer to skating

USA’s Taira Shinohara: From soccer to skating

Landing the quad toe is a 'dopamine rush'

by Paula Slater
Melanie Heaney/U.S. Figure Skating

Taira Shinohara

Taira Shinohara

Less than five months ago, USA’s Taira Shinohara won the silver at the 2024 Prevagen U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the junior level, improving six spots since his last outing in 2023. While the outcome of his short program was disappointing, he observed that the point difference for the next few placements were very close.

“I just believed in myself that I could do a comeback,” he said of his free skate. “While there were no expectations in terms of placement because there were many strong skaters in the competition, I knew I could finish with a satisfying score.”

Shinohara feels that he improved his relationship to skating, primarily with the addition of the triple Axel jump in competitions.

“But I think this was also a result of a stronger connection,” he shared. “After 2023 Nationals didn’t go so well, the goal for 2023-24 was to skate for myself. This is why I chose the program music myself and decided which elements to include in the program.”

“I started the year with no triple Axel despite having landed them,” he continued. “Through the summer competitions, I started to skate cleaner which boosted my confidence. I felt I was more in control of my skating and its trajectory. Then I felt prepared to add the Axels into my programs, and then I started landing them in the next few competitions.”

Last season, the skater felt lucky to have been able to train with top skaters Yuma Kagiyama and Ilia Malinin, both over the summer and before nationals, respectively.

“This gave me a new outlook on the future of my skating and where I want to bring it,” explained Shinohara. “This really gave meaning to why I skate, and it gave me more passion as compared to skating just to continue with the sport.”

The skater from the Chicago Figure Skating Club also worked with a mental performance coach on his everyday training.

“This led me to feel the most prepared in competition, along with helpful tips for landing jumps in the program at practices and competitions,” he said. “This helped a lot in developing my program through the season.”

Shinohara will compete as a junior this upcoming season and is hoping for international assignments. However, his goal is to compete as a senior at nationals.

From soccer to skating

Shinohara first began skating when he was six.

“It started as my winter sport during the off-season of my competitive soccer,” he shared. “My sister, Tamaki, and my friends started taking figure skating classes when I was six, so I decided to join the classes instead of waiting for my sister in the bleachers.”

Five years later, he mastered the single Axel. His sister’s coach then invited him to compete at the 2018 Upper Great Lakes Regionals in the Pre-preliminary division.

“There were only four boys in my region, so despite wobbling on my camel spin, I finished in second place with a box (as a trophy),” he recalled. “I was a little bit disappointed I didn’t get to win, so I started to take things more seriously the following season. I would say this was probably the start of my competitive journey.”

Shinohara currently trains at the under Denise Myers, Tommy Steenberg, Jeremy Allen, and Kseniya Ponomaryova. Allen was his first coach whom he worked under beginning in 2018. Myers and Steenberg became part of the team the following year.

“Tommy actually started as a choreographer for my Juvenile program,” he recalled. “I started working with Kseniya last year.”

“Taira’s potential has always been clear to me since day one,” said Allen. “It’s wonderful to see how he’s developed over the years since we began working together years ago. I believe Taira is unlimited both technically and artistically; a rare combination. As he continues to develop, I think we can anticipate truly wonderful things from him in the future.”

Shinohara, who just celebrated his 18th birthday last month, credits his first inspiration to Yuzuru Hanyu’s performances at the 2018 Olympics.

“Only then did I become aware of the competitive aspect of figure skating as compared to the recreational skating I did until then,” he recalled. “Then I also looked up to Nathan Chen for all his success. Now I look up to Yuma Kagiyama for the outstanding growth he’s made this last season. All these skaters have a complete package, from difficult jumps to artistry, and near-perfect execution. I want to be like these skaters whom others can look up to too.”

“Piano Man,” Sparkle” and… Jason Brown

This past season, Shinohara skated to “The Piano Man” by Billy Joel for the short program.

“I don’t recall the first time I heard it, but I usually keep a playlist of songs I like to use for programs,” he said. “Last year turned out to be the year for ‘Piano Man,’ especially with this year’s main focus on skating for myself. I chose this music by myself, and Tommy helped with the choreography. In this program, we portrayed Billy Joel in the bar playing pieces for the audience.”

Steenberg also choreographed his free skate to “Sparkle”—music from the famous 2016 animation film in Japan called Your Name. Shinohara had read the book and watched the movie and liked the buildup of the piece and the role of it in the film.

“The piece is played when the meteorite was about to hit the rural town, and the two main characters, as well as the people in the town, work together to survive the catastrophe,” the skater explained. “With the Japanese lyrics, I tried editing the music for the first time. In the program, I portray a boy who has been dropped into a world full of unknowns, slowly figuring out the system and chasing his desired destiny.”

Shinohara has two new programs for next season and is excited to perform them. He worked with Jason Brown for the short program and Scott Brown for the free skate.

“I had a great time with both choreographers!” he said. “It’s my second year working with Scott, so we knew each other pretty well and he brought new ideas to try. On the other hand, it was my first time working with Jason, but his preparation and character made the process very seamless. We even saw the solar eclipse together, which was a great addition to the week!”

Working the quads

Shinohara currently spends about two sessions a week on quads, but he shared that it really depends on how he feels on that day. His program run-throughs are more important in some periods.

“I also don’t want to push myself too much and risk injury,” said the skater. “Right now, I can land the quad toe and the quad Salchow.

He is also working on a quad Lutz, quad flip and quad loop.  However, his favorite of all the quads is the toe.

“When I land the quad toe, the dopamine rush is incomparable!” he said. “My least favorite depends on the day, but I’m usually inconsistent with edge jumps because of their precise timing and edge pressure required to execute them well.”

One thing for sure is that the skater will incorporate the quad toe into both his junior and senior free skate programs. He hopes it will be ready for the senior short program by the end of the year.

However, one of Shinohara’s main goals for next season is to be confident in all his competitions. This is more important to him than getting the highest technical score that he’s capable of. He wants to “increase the difficulty little by little over the year.”

“I also want to continue working on my artistry,” he said. “Especially because I am competing as a senior this year domestically and my component scores are not the strongest. I’m keeping an eye on future success, and I want to continue developing the artistic side of skating early on.”

“I think what separates the seniors from juniors is the expression and the projection they bring to the program,” he added. “I worked on a new ice show program for Dear Evan Hansen this year, and I feel like this improved my ability to express emotion really well. I’m also performing in numerous other group numbers which I find very fun, and it’s a valuable experience in learning how to entertain the audience.”

Roots, education and pets

Shinohara’s parents hail from Japan, with his mother originating from Fukuoka and his father from Hokkaido. He has a 16-year-old sister who also skates. The family also has a goldendoodle name “Po.”

What makes it amazing is that she does both singles and synchronized skating!” said the proud skater of his sister. “She is working on her triple Lutz while having been on Team USA as a junior last season in synchro.”

Shinohara graduated from Conant High School last month. His favorite subjects were physics and math. He now plans to study mechanical engineering in college next fall, and has committed to the University of California, Irvine.

The skater grew up on the Japanese language and is proficient in reading and writing as well.

“I’ve graduated from compulsory education in Japan through my Japanese Saturday school,” he shared. “Because our family is Japanese at home and it is easier for me to speak Japanese, I consider this as my first language. But my English is good too and I’ve passed honor and AP English classes with A’s.”


Shinohara enjoys going on walks with “Po” and working on DIY projects, like “working with microcontrollers and motors to build things like small robots.” While he hasn’t played soccer for a while, he sometimes kicks around a hacky sack to warm up.

“Our family has been into pickleball lately, so I think we’ll get back to that once the weather gets nicer,” he shared.

His main project, however, is an app he created called “Score Skates” which is published on the iOS App Store.

“It is a figure skating scoring app running on IJS used by ISU,” Shinohara explained. “It makes calculating program scores easy through buttons and slides. You can also save scores to your phone so you can see the progress in terms of points. The full details of the IJS are incorporated, including under rotations, second half bonuses, specific jump rules by level, and PCS. I’ve also made tutorial videos on YouTube that give an insight to the app.”

In the future, he would like to become an engineer after he retires from skating.

“I want to build things that assist many people’s lives through the combination of software and technology,” he said.

Lessons learned from 2023-24

Shinohara understands the importance of taking the time to assess what he calls his “normal” and ensure that his actions align with what he really wants. Like many other skaters, he gets caught up in the daily routine of going to the rink, doing programs, and homework, etc.

“It was helpful for me to reflect regularly instead of blindly running programs,” he shared. “For instance, what intentions do I what to bring into them to prepare me for the next competition? Or is the training I go through every day actually benefitting me? Or am I using energy on less important things rather than tackling my more important weakness? Or on a bad day, is it better to fight back to make it a good day, or should I just resume it the next day to get over the frustration? I feel like I was more aware of my training this year, which gave me a better understanding of who I am and what works best for me.”

The mental aspect is another area that Shinohara realizes is key in his progress. He feels he was always “good with competition” in the sense that his competitions were an accurate representation of his practices.

“I’ve been thinking that mental was not so important to me, that it was just the skill and consistency I lacked,” he explained. “But through sessions with my mental coach, I’ve learned that I can effectively use mental techniques to improve my training and limit frustrations. I also learned to utilize the energy of a competition to skate better than my everyday practices. Looking back at the last few years, it feels like I’ve wasted my entire career not knowing these things, but with an equally long career ahead, I’m glad I learned this now!”

Shinohara plans to compete at the 2024 Skate Milwaukee in July, which will host the U.S. Junior Team Cup, in hopes for a JGP assignment. Another goal of his is to place in the top 10 at the 2025 Prevagen U.S. Figure Skating Championships where he plans to compete as a senior.

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