Getty Images

Vincent Zhou put Ivy League classes on hold to return to figure skating

Leave a comment

Vincent Zhou weathered a turbulent autumn that had him questioning his future as a figure skater. Juggling freshman classes at Brown University and hard-to-find rink time proved too much.

He took two months off the ice and four months without proper training to complete that first semester. Then he took a break from classes (which will probably extend through the 2022 Olympics), moved to Toronto in late December and began working with a new coach.

Zhou would normally be favored to join Nathan Chen on the podium at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships this week in Greensboro, N.C. He took silver last year before earning bronze behind Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu at the world championships.

But now, after a stressful stretch, Zhou didn’t sound like a complete joker when he said that a successful nationals would be “to just complete it and not fall more than six times.”

“It’s a disappointingly low bar for me,” he said with a laugh two weeks ago. “I just don’t know what to expect. If I had to choose on a quiz whether I was ready or not ready, I would definitely say not ready. But it’s in trying times like these, so to speak, that coal is turned into diamond.”

Zhou’s problems began early in the semester. The ice time at Brown’s rink was all reserved for hockey. So he (with his mom’s help) drove two hours to Boston to train. That was unsustainable. In late October, he announced a withdrawal before the top-level autumn Grand Prix Series.

“I didn’t even know what was going to happen for the longest time,” Zhou said. “I was just living day to day unsure of what the future was. Maybe I dramatized that too much. It’s what I felt like. It was just a rough time for me.”

NATIONALS PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Alysa Liu | Vincent Zhou | Pairs | TV Schedule

Meanwhile, Chen continued to make balancing the Ivy League and top-level sport look seamless the last two years. He’s gone undefeated without pulling out of any competitions as a statistics and date science major at Yale.

“I’ve never considered dropping [classes] or withdrawing [from events],” Chen said. “However, I have prepared myself to have pretty rough results at various competitions. I’m really swamped. I have this opportunity. I don’t want to give it up, but I’ll try to do the very best that I can. Fortunately, things have panned out for me as it’s been so far. That being said, it’s not a little walk in the park. There’s a lot of things you have to consider. There’s a lot of timing you have to consider. The classes are getting more and more difficult. They’re asking more and more of your time to study.”

As December final exams approached, Zhou had to decide whether to throw in the towel for the entire season. He had trained under Tammy Gambill in California and Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado, with some help from Mie Hamada to become one of the world’s best. That was before he moved to Rhode Island. Before he was off the ice for two months. Everything had changed.

Zhou, partially motivated to keep earning money through skating to help pay for college, decided to return for the second half of this season.

Hamada suggested a more proximate option: Toronto-based Lee Barkell, whose pupils include world medalists Gabrielle Daleman of Canada and Satoko Miyahara of Japan. Zhou met with him around Thanksgiving. He began training at the Toronto Granite Club on Dec. 23, Barkell said.

“I felt like I hadn’t skated in a lifetime,” Zhou said. “I was unsteady on my boots and not really able to do much at all. I didn’t know what to expect of myself. I was scared. Well, I still am, that I’m not going to be able to perform as I should at nationals.”

Barkell was more optimistic.

“Obviously we’re under a little bit of a time crunch,” said the 1980s Canadian pairs’ skater. “Certainly somebody at that level, and he’s obviously talented, you can get back a little bit quicker if you put your mind to it. I’ve certainly been impressed that the first day on the ice that he was definitely serious about this. Each day is getting better and better.”

If Chen is in a class of his own in jumping in the United States, an in-form Zhou is alone in the second tier.

He can land three different quadruple jumps in one program. Barkell said last week that Zhou was working on quad Salchows and quad Lutzes in isolation, but the big push was to work on his stamina for a four-minute free skate.

Three U.S. men will be sent to worlds in March. Chen has one spot. Jason Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion ranked 11th in the world this year, is another podium favorite. Zhou is the only other man in this week’s field who has finished in the top three of a nationals or a Grand Prix.

“It’s going to be nerve-racking,” he said. “I’m going to literally be shaking in my boots.”

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Canadian ice dancers overcome wardrobe malfunction at nationals

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.

Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines call backyard pool swim race

Leave a comment

Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines covered swimming together at the last six Olympics, including every one of Michael Phelps‘ finals, but they’ve never called a “race” quite like this.

“We heard you were looking for something to commentate during the down time….might this short short short course 100 IM help?” tweeted Cathleen Pruden, posting a video of younger sister Mary Pruden, a sophomore swimmer at Columbia University, taking individual medley strokes in what appeared to be an inflatable backyard pool.

“Hang on,” Gaines replied. “This race of the century deserves the right call. @DanHicksNBC and I are working some magic!”

Later, Hicks posted a revised video dubbed with commentary from he and Gaines.

They became the latest commentators to go beyond the booth to post calls on social media while sports are halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC Sports hockey voice Doc Emrick (who has also called Olympic hockey and water polo) did play-by-play of a windshield wiper installation.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ledecky, Manuel welcome Olympic decision after training in backyard pool

Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

Team USA Olympics
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement