By Maura Sullivan Hill, staff writer
Vincent Zhou was riding high at the end of last season. The 2017 U.S. silver medalist and World Junior Champion, 16-year-old Zhou was turning heads with his arsenal of quad jumps and sparking talk of an Olympic berth.
But that momentum didn’t quite carry over into his first full senior season. His Grand Prix showings were inconsistent, with a fourth place at Cup of China followed by a ninth place finish at Internationaux de France. He was second in the free skate in China, climbing back from eighth place after the short. But overall, it wasn’t the strong, consistent Zhou we saw at the end of last season.
“We didn’t obsess over what went wrong, because that can lead to negativity and lots of stress,” Zhou said in a U.S. Figure Skating media call on Dec. 27. “We just discussed with a clear mind changes to make based on how I was feeling. We realized we were pushing too hard.”
“Since France, we’ve made the training much smarter, we’re managing the schedule much better, and I think those are vital changes that have had a very positive impact on the way I’m training now.”
Zhou is planning five quads and two triple axels in the free skate at the 2018 U.S. Championships next week in San Jose, and says that he is practicing clean short and long programs, thanks to the adjustments in his training. He is coached by Tom Zakrajsek, Christy Krall and Drew Meekins in Colorado Springs, as well as by his longtime coach Tammy Gambill, who is based in Riverside, California.
Part of the problem in France was an overly ambitious free skate with six quads. He fell on two of them and popped two others.
“I think that going for six quads wasn’t smart, because the entire goal of the season was to take things step by step,” Zhou said. “I did three quads at Junior Worlds last year and I’ve done four successfully at Finlandia Trophy this year, so five is the next step. With the changes to training that we’ve made, we’ve been very successful.”
Zhou also said he had been having some issues with his shin prior to France, which have since cleared up. He is also on the mend after his shoulder popped out of place on a fall on a quadruple salchow recently in training.
“I’ve made an almost full recovery by now. There is still one spin position that I can’t do, but that will be cleared up by Nationals,” he said. “I’m still young and I’m very lucky to be in good condition right now.”
When Zhou takes the ice in San Jose, the Olympic team selection will be on his mind. “I can control whether they choose me or not by how I skate, and the way I manage how I skate is the way I manage how I train going into Nationals.”
He acknowledged that the pressures of an Olympic season, paired with his first full senior season, are challenging.
“I know that I’m one of the contenders for the Olympic team, and that’s a lot to handle as a first-year senior, especially at 16-17 years old,” Zhou said, displaying maturity beyond those 17 years. “All the expectations and being compared with the top skaters in the world — I know that I’m able to do all the quads that everyone else can do and that’s the reason that I’m compared with those people who are the top skaters in the world, but my artistry, my performance, my component scores have yet to catch up. It’s hard trying to balance the two in my first year senior and, especially, in an Olympic year.”
The U.S. men’s field is stacked with Olympic contenders, including 2017 Grand Prix Final Champion and 2017 U.S. Champion , 2016 U.S. Champion , 2015 U.S. Champion , and 2013 U.S. Champion Max Aaron. “Everyone poised to make the Olympic team is a fighter,” Zhou said of his competitors, and he pointed to training mate Max Aaron’s work ethic this season as inspirational.
But whatever happens with his competitors, Zhou is focused on his own performance and preparation. “I’ll rely on myself doing well to succeed rather than others making mistakes.”
Nationals will be a homecoming for Zhou, whose father still lives in the Bay Area while he and his mother live in Colorado for training.
“I think it’s going to be wonderful competing there,” said Zhou, who won the U.S. novice title the last time the event was held in San Jose, in 2012. “I think there is going to be a cheering section that my mother is involved with organizing, so I’m very excited about the support I’ll have there.”
Editor’s Note: Figure Skaters Online’sand Claire Cloutier, along with photographer , will be in San Jose for the U.S. Championships. Follow Figure Skaters Online on Twitter (@fsonline), Facebook (www.facebook.com/fsonline), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/figureskatersonline/) and on our website, www.figureskatersonline.com for coverage beginning January 2.