American figure skater Vincent Zhou finished sixth in men's singles in his first Olympic Games in 2018 as a teenager. Now 21, Zhou is eyeing another trip to the Games in 2022 after a breakout season that saw him upset compatriot Nathan Chen at 2021 Skate America.
Since the PyeongChang Olympics, Zhou also enrolled at Brown University, but took a leave of absence to prepare for the 2022 Winter Games.
As part of our preparation for the 2022 Winter Games, NBC Olympics sent questionnaires to multiple athletes to learn more about their lives both inside and outside of sports. Here’s what we found out about Zhou:
Tell us about your family.
My mom and dad moved from Beijing, China to the U.S. in 1992, both software engineers. My grandparents and extended family all still live in Beijing. My sister, Vivian (22 by the time of the Olympics), graduated from MIT and is studying neuroscience.
How influential were your parents in your athletic career?
My parents were willing to make sacrifices for my skating career that no parents in our community, or anyone we had heard of, were willing to. They did whatever it took to foster my talent, push me to work hard and achieve great results, and go above and beyond for me. At the same time, they maintained that academics would always be the most important thing, and the values they taught me helped shape my character in and out of sports very much.
How was your hometown shaped who you are today?
Due to the high Asian population in California's Bay Area, competition in academics is very fierce. Only the highly competitive, hardworking, diligent, committed people make it. That played a huge part in me understanding the standards my family has for academics and whatever I decided to pursue in terms of sport.
Describe a typical training day.
6:50 - Wake up, exercises
7:20 - Breakfast
7:45 - Tape foot, prepare for day
8:10 - Get to rink for warm up
9:00 to 2:00 - Four sessions with breaks and recovery between
2:15 - Lunch
2:30 or 3:00 to 4:00 - Work out (couple days a week)
4:30 - Get home and recover
6:00 - Dinner
9:00 - Get ready for bed
Describe your nutrition plan.
Breakfast - Big glass of milk, eggs, always some meat and veggies, and supplements.
Lunch - Always meat and veggies with rice or noodles.
Dinner - Big glass of milk, beef item (winter sport athletes often lack iron/protein), veggies, some sort of grain or flour item.
Between every session I have refueling and rehydration, including Greek yogurt, chocolate milk, fruit, dried fruit, snacks, etc.
Big bowl of fruit every night a while after dinner.
What’s the most grueling workout you’ve ever done?
The Incline in Manitou Springs -- a hiking trail made from what were formerly rail ties. The trail goes straight up the side of a mountain, reaching a maximum incline of 68 degrees. The faster time you try to achieve, the harder it gets!
Anything surprising about training for the Olympics?
Even for the best athletes, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. We fail over and over again, have bad days every week, cry after bad sessions or at night, deal with injuries, mental issues, and the works. All that for one shot at glory once, or if skaters are very lucky, twice or more, at the Olympics. But it's a full-time, full-body, full-mind, full-lifestyle commitment. The couple minutes in the spotlight at the Olympics is the very, very tip of the iceberg.
How did you prepare during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I spent lockdown here in Colorado Springs. During that time, rinks were closed and I was unable to train for a few months, but I took the time to really get into the great outdoors of Colorado that were virtually in my backyard the whole time and I didn't even realize it. Now I love hiking and am interested in all sorts of outdoor activities, but don't have the time or commitment to spend on it as I'm focused on skating-related training virtually 24/7.
Have you every had an injury, and if so, what was your recovery like?
When I was just 9 years old, I started having pain in the back of my right knee. Three years later, at only 12 years old, I had surgery for a 1.7cm tear in my right lateral meniscus. It was too serious to fix so they removed my meniscus. Following the surgery, I was off the ice for 3 1/2 months, during which time I developed severe depression. After returning to the ice, my depression remained, and I quit skating, nearly forever. By sheer luck, or some would say, destiny, I found my way back to an ice rink and here I am today. It took two full years to fully emerge from that pit of depression, but I'm all the better for having gone through such a difficult time early on and being able to reflect on myself, my life, my goals, my character, and beyond.
What’s your earliest memory of skating?
My first memory of skating was my mom and dad taking our family to the local ice rink on a weekend. I was 3 years old. I could barely move on the ice, but I remember my dad taking my arms and going (what felt like) really fast. I was scared, but it felt like I was flying. I didn't actually start skating until I was 5 1/2 years old, but it was the high level of commitment required to improve and endless learning curve that made my super competitive young self dedicate my life to it.
What’s your earliest memory of watching the Olympics?
In 2009, I moved to Southern California with my mom to train. That year, the World Championships happened to be in Los Angeles, and we bought tickets. I had the privilege of witnessing U.S. skater Evan Lysacek win the gold medal live with an incredible performance. The following year, I watched from the couch as he won the Olympic gold medal in Vancouver, and from then on I watched his performances, among others, every single night at the dinner table. In the back of my mind, there was never a doubt I would do all that was humanly possible to get there myself one day. It's been a lifelong dream.
Did you have a specific breakthrough moment?
The moment I landed my quadruple Lutz (hardest jump in figure skating anyone is doing) for the first time in 2016. At that time, the Olympic season was literally one season away, and my seemingly impossible dream of making the 2018 team (I knew I could peak in 2022, but I was ambitious and impatient) suddenly started blossoming into reality right in front of my eyes, going from, ‘It's highly unlikely given what I can do right now,’ to, "Oh my God, I have a chance. I can see the invisible target now, but it's still impossibly high to reach.’ With the quad Lutz in my arsenal of technical content, I won the 2017 Junior World Championships against all odds and predictions, with a record-shattering score at that. The following season, I entered the senior international ranks for the first time, and after months and months of sleepless nights emotionally staring at the ceiling in the dark, dreaming of glory, it happened. I made the 2018 Olympic Team.
Is there anything you would change about your sport?
I would change the pre-existing biases that go into judging/scoring/technical calling. There are so many sports that are truly impartial and results are measured by single objective metrics such as distance, speed, or time. When you have something as complicated as skating, so many factors determine the scoring. It would be all the better, but a far-off wish to be honest, if human biases were not one of those factors.
Has anyone told you that you wouldn’t succeed?
There are always doubters and armchair experts, who unfortunately with the explosion of social media have become more and more vocal, listened to, and respected. The best way to deal with distractions like that is to keep your head down, recognize your shortcomings and your strengths, be proud of what you have achieved, and continue being hungry for more so you put in the work despite what anyone says and do all in your own power to achieve success.
What advice would you give to a younger skater?
Never be afraid to dream big. I've talked to kids who love watching top athletes but are doubtful of their own ability or think they aren't good enough to get there. There is a hidden innate ability within everyone to achieve greatness. It takes belief, dedication, hard work, an important person, or some critical thing like that to bring it out, nurture it, and grow that seed into something truly spectacular one day.