Three questions with Vincent Zhou before U.S. Championships

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Vincent Zhou was off-balance a little this season so far. He was hampered by a back injury over the summer that delayed his training, which led to a sense of unpreparedness for the U.S. International Classic in September, where he finished fourth.

On the Grand Prix series, he was fifth at Skate America and fourth at Grand Prix Japan. But he competed at Tallinn Trophy in December, earning a silver, and believes he’s now back on track and ready for the U.S. Championships in Detroit this weekend.

Here’s what we learned from his media teleconference (or as Zhou jokingly said to reporters on the call, “welcome to my TED Talk”):

1. After some under rotation calls throughout the fall, Zhou has pushed himself to be squeaky-clean on his landings.

“The only thing it’s really done for me is push me to make it clearer – to make my jumps cleaner. One of my number one focuses since then has been making the rotation clearer. That’s one of the things I hope people will see in Detroit because I have been training better in that aspect.”

“I can only acknowledge the fact that I’ve been improving and working very hard on it. Hopefully the results show at nationals. It hasn’t been easy, redefining my standard of what is OK in terms of rotation or not. But I’m getting much stronger in that aspect.”

2. Zhou went to his choreographers for a tune-up before Nationals.

“I was able to go to Toronto for a week to kind of rework my program with Lori Nichol for the short and Jeff Buttle for the free skate. We made some pretty significant changes to the programs. I feel like they’re much better than before now. Not only have the programs improved, but also spending the week in Toronto really – without hammering away at the quads – helped me (I don’t want to say rediscover) but it helped me find out how much I really enjoy the creative process and the freedom and the flow that comes with good skating. I value that much more and I hope that it shows when I skate.

“It’s very difficult to be in the river current of a pure, unadulterated flow of a program, the choreography. Doing quads kind of snaps you out of that. but I’m trying to integrate the two together. It’s a work in progress for sure. I believe there have been pretty significant changes and good ones, too.”

Zhou also mentioned he’d been working with Tom Dickson, who’s been helping “place my shoulders, my arms, in relation to my head and combining that with the best position to create flow more easily.”

3. Last year’s success is just that – last year. Instead, Zhou is looking ahead.

“It’s not just duplicating what happened last year, but moving beyond it. I think my skating is in a different place than it was last year… I wanted so badly to make the Olympic team… I wanted to make this season more about improving my skating, the quality of my skating, my programs. I’m really looking forward to showing that in Detroit.”

MORE: Nathan Chen prepared to capture third national title

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Saudi Arabia to host 2029 Asian Winter Games

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Saudi Arabia will host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 in mountains near the $500 billion futuristic city project Neom.

The Olympic Council of Asia on Tuesday picked the Saudi candidacy that centers on Trojena that is planned to be a year-round ski resort by 2026.

“The deserts & mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for Winter sports!” the OCA said in a statement announcing its decision.

Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said the kingdom’s winter sports project “challenges perception” in a presentation of the plan to OCA members.

“Trojena is the future of mountain living,” the minister said of a region described as an area of about 60 square kilometers at altitude ranging from 1,500 to 2,600 meters.

The Neom megaproject is being fund by the Saudi sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund.

Saudi Arabia also will host the Asian Games in 2034 in Riyadh as part of aggressive moves to build a sports hosting portfolio and help diversify the economy from reliance on oil.

A campaign to host soccer’s 2030 World Cup is expected with an unprecedented three-continent bid including Egypt and Greece.

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Jim Redmond, who helped son Derek finish 1992 Olympic race, dies

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Jim Redmond, who helped his injured son, Derek, finish his 1992 Olympic 400m semifinal, died at age 81 on Sunday, according to the British Olympic Association, citing family members.

At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Derek pulled his right hamstring 15 seconds into his 400m semifinal, falling to the track in anguish.

He brushed off help from officials, got up and began limping around the track. About 120 meters from the finish line, he felt the presence of an uncredentialed man who rushed down the stadium stairs, dodged officials and said, “We started this together, and we’re going to finish this together,” according to Olympedia.org.

“As I turned into the home straight, I could sense this person was about to try and stop me,” Derek said in an NBC Olympics profile interview before the 2012 London Games. “I was just about to get ready to sort of fend them off, and then I heard a familiar voice of my dad. He said, ‘Derek, it’s me. You don’t need to do this.'”

Derek said he shouted to his dad that he wanted to finish the race.

“He was sort of saying things like, ‘You’ve got nothing to prove. You’re a champion. You’ll come back. You’re one of the best guys in the world. You’re a true champion. You’ve got heart. You’re going to get over this. We’ll conquer the world together,'” Derek remembered. “I’m just sort of saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

At one point, Derek noticed stadium security, not knowing who Jim was, having removed guns from their holsters.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard my dad use bad language,” Derek said. “He just goes, ‘Leave him alone, I’m his father.'”

Derek told himself in that moment, “I’m going to finish this race if it’s the last race I ever run.” It turned out to be the last 400m race of his career, after surgery and 18 months of rehab were not enough to yield a competitive comeback, according to Sports Illustrated.

Derek had missed the 1988 Seoul Games after tearing an Achilles, reportedly while warming up for his opening race. He looked strong in Barcelona, winning his first-round heat and quarterfinal.

“I’d rather be seen to be coming last in the semifinal than not finish in the semifinal,” he said, “because at least I can say I gave it my best.”