Q&A with Vincent Zhou
Vincent Zhou won a silver medal at the 2017 U.S. National Championships and closed out his pre-Olympic season with a gold medal at the world junior championships.
What would people be surprised to learn about training for the Olympics?
I'm not sure about other sports, but during the competitive season of figure skating, the longest break I have between major competitions is a month, and often it is just two or three weeks. This schedule can be grueling, but at the same time, traveling is so much fun and I get to see so many different places and cultures that not many people would think we get time to enjoy outside of competing.
Do you like to travel? Where’s the most special place you’ve enjoyed visiting?
I love traveling. My favorite place I've ever been to was many years ago on a cruise from Alaska to Vancouver. I had the greatest time of my life aboard a luxury ship, watching glaciers, making new friends at the kids club, and exploring the gorgeous city of Vancouver.
What’s something intense about figure skating that people don’t normally see? What’s the hardest part about figure skating?
When most people think of figure skating, they see graceful girls in ballerina dresses floating across the ice. However, that's not what the sport is. Figure skating involves split-second timing on jumps that could succeed or fail depending on 0.01 extra seconds in the air or a blade misplaced a centimeter to the left. Figure skating involves blisters, bruises, cuts, and serious injuries, just like every other sport. It is by no means a simple dance routine across the ice.
Were you ever seriously hurt? What happened? How did you come back from the injury?
In 2010, I started feeling pain in the back of my right knee. The pain steadily grew worse and worse over time, and we always thought it was tendinitis. We visited many doctors who all said they could fix it, and nobody did. After skating in constant pain until 2013, from age 9 to 12, I finally had an MRI done and we found out that I had a large bucket-handle tear in my lateral meniscus. I underwent surgery in September 2016, and the tear was too large to fix so the doctors removed my lateral meniscus completely. Coming back from that injury was not easy; it was months of training and two years off competition before I finally returned to full training. Having a steel resolve was the main thing that guided me through those times.
What’s your earliest memory of the Olympics?
My earliest Olympic memory was hearing [gold medalist] Evgeni Plushenko's name in 2006. Of course, I had only just started private lessons then, so I didn't understand much about it. In 2010, Evan Lysacek became Olympic champion, and my dream of meeting him came true one summer day in southern California at a rink.
What’s your earliest memory of figure skating?
My earliest memory of skating was when I was 3. On a Sunday, my parents took my sister and me to the local rink in Cupertino, California, and we rented public session skates and I got on the ice. I remember standing there, afraid to move, and my dad taking my hand and taking me around the rink.
What Olympic sport would you love to try out?
I would like to try Alpine Skiing because when I was young, I went skiing with friends in Lake Tahoe or Reno almost every summer. I enjoyed it a lot and although I haven't had time for a vacation in nearly six years, I remember enjoying it a lot.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of advice I've ever received comes from my father. He told me that it is okay to see other people's issues and negative behavior, but if you react and also show negative behavior, the issues also become yours.
What’s your biggest fear while on the ice?
My biggest fear when competing is making mistakes. If you mess up once, you can lose motivation completely. That's why a strong mind is so important.
Do you work with a sports psychologist? How does that affect you?
Yes. The biggest thing talking with her does for me is that it allows me to take a step back and look at my performance, training, and competitions from an outside perspective. I can take my time to reflect on my feelings and mindset, and if something isn't working out, we develop strategies to overcome the mental hindrances.
Who do you consider your biggest rival? Do you consider it friendly or contentious?
My biggest rival is Nathan Chen, another young Asian, about one and a half years older than me. Our relationship is very friendly and we both respect each other's abilities very much. Since I was little, I always looked at his skating as exemplary, and over the years I am slowly closing the gap. I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw both our names on the competitors' list at the same competition. Now, it's a friendly rivalry that I look forward to continuing through the next few years.
Did you play any other sports growing up in addition to figure skating?
No, but when I was little, I tried out almost everything because I was so energetic and my parents couldn't contain me at home. I played basketball, tennis, soccer, and swimming. I also took piano lessons and attended my school's chess club. In the end, skating beat all!
Are you superstitious? Do you have a routine that you do before every competition?
No, but one thing I try to avoid around competitions is certainly negative thinking!
What do you do to unwind after a competition?
I usually just take a day or two off. However, after the last competition of the year, which is often the biggest, I like to take a week off to do whatever I want to do.
Describe your perfect day.
I would wake up in time for lunch, go for an early afternoon hike with a close friend, then watch a movie and meet up with more friends to hang out at someone's house. As an athlete who spends virtually my entire life training and doing schoolwork, a day off like that would be a wonderful bucket of cold water to refresh my senses.
What would you do if you were not an athlete?
If I were not an athlete, I would like to be a mountaineer. I truly love the great outdoors and the grand scale of nature. I absolutely love hiking. Nature photography also interests me because of how much I admire the wild outdoors. When I am able to, I like to find new trails in Colorado to explore. My dream would be to do a difficult hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.
What are your favorite movies?
My favorite movies are Interstellar for its plot and mind-bending visuals, Furious 7 for its action, and Pacific Rim for its graphics and story.
What’s your favorite emoji?
My favorite emoji is the laughing so hard that tears come out one--it instantly puts me in a good mood, and you could show me just a page with only that emoji on it and it would make me burst out laughing.
How influential has your family been in your career?
My parents have been the biggest influence on my athletic career. My mom was a software engineer for 17 years before quitting her job to become a dedicated caretaker, supporter, and mentor for me. We persevered throughout my ups and downs in studying, skating and growing up. I am deeply grateful for my parents’ support and understanding. Being of the first generation of immigrants – my parents came to the U.S. from China – they hope to raise their children with excellent grades, secure jobs, and stable families. My family continuously stands by my side, pushing me to fully explore my potential and fulfill my Olympic dream.