Vincent Zhou
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Vincent Zhou’s new coaches impressed with renewed dedication

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – When Vincent Zhou stepped off of the ice after a clean short program at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday, he must have breathed several sighs of relief.

After a stressful few months, including fights to find ice time, his studies at Brown University and a late-December coaching change and move to Toronto, the reigning world bronze medalist was back in the game.

“I mean, obviously it was not up to the level I was at when I had my success at the end of last season, but give a little time and we’ll keep building and building,” Zhou said of his short, which included a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel and earned 94.82 points, good enough for fourth place behind Nathan Chen, Jason Brown and a surprising Andrew Torgashev.

With three U.S. men’s spots available for the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal in March, Zhou is just a bit over three points out of third place. (A skater’s body of work is also considered in naming the world team.) He’s about 20 points behind Chen, but hey, a guy’s got to start someplace.

“We started officially on the ice December 23rd, and the big push had been obviously on getting his stamina up, so the emphasis is on program run-throughs,” said new coach Lee Barkell, who trains his skaters at the Toronto Granite Club.

“(There’s) that fine line about not pushing too much at the beginning, you don’t want to go full bore and get injured, etc.,” he continued. “You really have to have specific goals, and our theme has been one session at a time, to get Vincent’s confidence back in his skating.”

Lori Nichol, Zhou’s choreographer and another of his coaches in Toronto, thinks Zhou was chafing at the bit to put another quad into his short here, but caution prevailed.

“The main goal is to get him to nationals healthy physically, healthy emotionally, healthy mentally, doing the best he could for step one,” she said. “It’s so tempting, he wants to do all the other quads and we’re beginning them, but the goal is to do it when his body is really ready.”

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The move to Toronto, where Zhou will share the ice with skaters including Japan’s Satoko Miyahara and Canada’s Gabby Daleman, was made possible by a leave of absence from Brown, which permits students to take indefinite time away.

On Saturday, Zhou said he planned to skate “school-stress free through the 2022 Olympics.” Finding adequate ice time near Brown, located in Providence, Rhode Island, proved too difficult.

“Obviously the first option was Brown’s main auditorium, which is the rink on campus, but the ice there is mostly given to hockey skaters,” Zhou said. “Also, I skated a session or two there and the ice was so thin, my toe pick hit sand on a triple Lutz. Then the hockey coaches were complaining I did permanent damage to the ice. I mean, fill the hole in with snow and cut the ice down. So that was out of the picture.”

Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson’s rink near Boston was a possibility, but traffic stretched the commute to over four hours a day, which wasn’t feasible. Other rinks were considered and rejected for one reason or another. Finally, Zhou withdrew from his Grand Prix events and focused on his classes.

“It’s best for me if I can fully dedicate myself to one at a time, so that I can produce the best result possible instead of having to split my attention and energy and focus between two things that are hugely important to me,” he said.

Nichol was a big draw to Toronto. The renowned choreographer, who has helped polish the skating skills of skaters ranging from Michelle Kwan to Patrick Chan and Carolina Kostner, can now work with Zhou regularly to strengthen his performance quality. Over the past month, she and Barkell targeted skating skills and landing positions.

“We wrote down all of the things we would love to see him improve, to be the best he can be,” Nichol said. “We just start pulling out the things that can be done now, and if he is blessed to go to worlds, we can do some next week and the next and the next, and (have the changes) be attainable and sustainable for worlds.”

According to Nichol, Zhou is an intense and willing student.

“I will say one thing about a landing position on Friday and he’ll come in the next week and say, ‘I’ve been constantly thinking about that,’” she said. “You don’t have to force anything on him, he loves learning. And we’ve created an environment where we work with him, share everything we know, and then we’re strong enough that the rest comes from him.”

Barkell added that Zhou’s years of training under coaches including Tammy Gambill and Tom Zakrajsek has built a strong technical base.

“I’m coming in more from the technique aspect and, again, the overall package,” he said. “With (Vincent) being new, too, it’s kind of a little bit of watch and see how he works independently. You don’t change stuff that doesn’t need to be fixed, you need to be find little weaknesses and tweak them.”

Thus far, Zhou gives that approach a big thumbs-up.

“I think Lee has been very, very good with understanding me as a skater and helping me build toward this competition in a way I feel comfortable with,” the skater said, adding that he didn’t think a complete do-over of his jump technique was necessary.

“Let’s say you work with one coach and you have a pile of bricks that represents the technique they’ve given to you,” Zhou said. “You’re not just going to just put that all aside, you’re going to build it, apply it in different ways. I really look forward to seeing what I can accomplish with Lee in that way.”

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MORE: Nathan Chen ‘in control of everything’ going for fourth straight national title

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.

Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
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Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

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Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

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