Vincent Zhou, after a time of tumult, is on track for his Olympic end game

Vincent Zhou
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Vincent Zhou calls 2022 his “end game.”

“After that, I’m going to go to school and focus on my future career,” the 19-year-old figure skater said. “I’m hungry for an Olympic medal. I know I’m capable.”

For Zhou, sixth at the 2018 Olympics, the latest tumult in teenage years full of overcoming obstacles came in late 2019. He tried unsuccessfully to balance an elite skating career with freshman classes at Brown University. More on that here.

He traded Providence for Toronto. Then, when the pandemic hit, he relocated to Colorado Springs and reunited with coaches Christy Krall and Tom Zakrajsek, who helped him develop into a world junior champion in 2017 and a senior world bronze medalist in March 2019.

Now, Zhou is 16 months from the Beijing Winter Games. His parents lived in the Chinese capital before moving to the U.S. He speaks fluent Mandarin and has a large fan base in the world’s most populous nation.

“I don’t think there’s another place I’d rather have my second and final Olympics,” besides the U.S., Zhou said.

The focus is Las Vegas this weekend. Zhou is one of nine Americans in the 12-man field at Skate America, an international Grand Prix event that, this year, is localized due to pandemic travel concerns.

SKATE AMERICA: TV, Live Stream Schedule | Grand Prix Fields

It’s akin to a mini-national championships and the first top-level skating competition in eight months. Zhou is ready.

“I expect him to skate extremely well,” said Krall, who believes Zhou can put a quadruple Lutz and a quadruple flip in Friday’s short program and Saturday’s free skate. “He’s a big risk-taker.”

Back in 2015, a 14-year-old Zhou moved from California to Colorado. He was two years removed from his last competition, due to right knee surgery for a torn lateral meniscus and a focus on academics.

Within the first six months, Zhou learned a quad Salchow and a triple Axel working with Zakrajsek. He tacked on a quad toe loop, giving him an arsenal that only one other American could boast. Zhou finished fifth at the 2016 World Junior Championships while 10 months younger than anybody in the top four.

“I was certainly like, this kid is going to PyeongChang,” Zakrajsek said.

He was right. Zhou, at 17, was the youngest athlete in the entire U.S. delegation in South Korea. He debuted with a 12th-place short program, then posted a personal-best free skate to finish sixth overall.

The next month, Zhou was third after the world championships short program before a free skate with three falls left him 14th. If Zhou repeated his Olympic free skate score, he would have won the silver medal.

The next season, Zhou got past back and shoulder injuries, plus a slew of under-rotation calls at fall and winter events to finish third at worlds. He shared the podium with countryman Nathan Chen and two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, the two best skaters of this generation and, very arguably, history.

“There were people that laughed at me for saying it was possible,” Zhou said. “I accomplished that on my own terms.”

It was the first time that two U.S. men stood on the same world championships podium since 1996. The next morning in Saitama, Japan, Chen’s coach, the trademark gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, high-fived Zakrajsek at breakfast, noting the gap.

“I know after the [2018] Olympics lots of people were like, he’s just another kid who can do quads,” Zhou said last week, “but I’m trying to break that perception and really have a name for myself instead of being talked about as Nathan Chen No. 2 or an underdog competitor or something like that.”

Zakrajsek said he has never heard Zhou talk in terms of wanting to beat Chen, who is 17 months older. Zhou has kept the focus on his own skating.

“But I know, previously, just from before I was coaching Vincent, watching Nathan and Vincent come up in the ranks when he was in California with [former coach] Tammy [Gambill], that there was a rivalry there,” Zakrajsek said. “You could see it from afar, right? But I think a healthy rivalry. I think they push each other.”

Skate America marks the 10th time that Chen and Zhou are in the same senior competition. Chen, undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang, finished higher in all of the previous events.

Most recently, the January 2020 U.S. Championships. Zhou placed fourth after missing four months of proper training and contemplating his future in skating before the Toronto move in late December.

Zhou, before taking those two years off in his early teens, in 2013 became the youngest U.S. men’s junior champion in history, relegating the defending champion Chen to third.

“Does Vincent want to beat Nathan? I think Vincent wants to be the best, and Nathan is the world champion,” Zakrajsek said. “So, obviously, you’ve got to deliver the whole package, right, and perform.”

If Zhou’s goal is an Olympic medal of any color, it is attainable regardless of what Chen does, or even what Hanyu does. He has already delivered medal-caliber skating on the highest level, and, if you listen to Zakrajsek and Krall, he is now ready to show more.

In separate interviews this week, each coach spoke first of Zhou’s maturation since he was last in Colorado in early 2019. Krall said that Zhou found “his own manship, his own soul,” after moving three times in less than a year as he turned 19. 

The teen years are about to end. Zhou turns 20 on Sunday.

“He has physically adjusted to his body now. He has a man’s body, and he’s super-duper strong,” Zakrajsek said. “That is, I think, the biggest change. So everything he does, his skating, his spinning, his jumping, his interpretation, it all is now from a point of view as being a young man instead of a boy.”

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the last time two U.S. men made a world podium before 2019 was 1981. It was 1996.

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U.S. men’s gymnastics team named for world championships

Asher Hong
Allison and John Cheng/USA Gymnastics
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Asher Hong, Colt Walker and world pommel horse champion Stephen Nedoroscik were named to the last three spots on the U.S. men’s gymnastics team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Brody Malone and Donnell Whittenburg earned the first spots on the team by placing first and second in the all-around at August’s U.S. Championships.

Hong, Walker and Nedoroscik were chosen by a committee after two days of selection camp competition in Colorado Springs this week. Malone and Whittenburg did not compete at the camp.

Hong, 18, will become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009. He nearly earned a spot on the team at the U.S. Championships, but erred on his 12th and final routine of that meet to drop from second to third in the all-around. At this week’s camp, Hong had the lowest all-around total of the four men competing on all six apparatuses, but selectors still chose him over Tokyo Olympians Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus.

Walker, a Stanford junior, will make his world championships debut. He would have placed second at nationals in August if a bonus system for attempting difficult skills wasn’t in place. With that bonus system not in place at the selection camp, he had the highest all-around total. The bonus system is not used at international meets such as world championships.

Nedoroscik rebounded from missing the Tokyo Olympic team to become the first American to win a world title on pommel horse last fall. Though he is the lone active U.S. male gymnast with a global gold medal, he was in danger of missing this five-man team because of struggles on the horse at the U.S. Championships. Nedoroscik, who does not compete on the other five apparatuses, put up his best horse routine of the season on the last day of the selection camp Wednesday.

Moldauer, who tweeted that he was sick all last week, was named the traveling alternate for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. It would be the first time that Moldauer, who was fourth in the all-around at last fall’s worlds, does not compete at worlds since 2015.

Though the U.S. has not made the team podium at an Olympics or worlds since 2014, it is boosted this year by the absence of Olympic champion Russia, whose athletes are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

The U.S. women’s world team of five will be announced after a selection camp in two weeks. Tokyo Olympians Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles are in contention.

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Paris 2024 Olympic marathon route unveiled

Paris 2024 Olympic Marathon
Paris 2024
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The 2024 Olympic marathon route will take runners from Paris to Versailles and back.

The route announcement was made on the 233rd anniversary of one of the early, significant events of the French Revolution: the Women’s March on Versailles — “to pay tribute to the thousands of women who started their march at city hall to Versailles to take up their grievances to the king and ask for bread,” Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet said.

Last December, organizers announced the marathons will start at Hôtel de Ville (city hall, opposite Notre-Dame off the Seine River) and end at Les Invalides, a complex of museums and monuments one mile southeast of the Eiffel Tower.

On Wednesday, the rest of the route was unveiled — traversing the banks of the Seine west to the Palace of Versailles and then back east, passing the Eiffel Tower before the finish.

The men’s and women’s marathons will be on the last two days of the Games at 8 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET). It will be the first time that the women’s marathon is held on the last day of the Games after the men’s marathon traditionally occupied that slot.

A mass public marathon will also be held on the Olympic marathon route. The date has not been announced.

The full list of highlights among the marathon course:

• Hôtel de ville de Paris (start)
• Bourse de commerce
• Palais Brongniart
• Opéra Garnier
• Place Vendôme
• Jardin des Tuileries
• The Louvre
• Place de la Concorde
• The bridges of Paris
(Pont de l’Alma; Alexandre III;
Iéna; and more)
• Grand Palais
• Palais de Tokyo
• Jardins du Trocadéro
• Maison de la Radio
• Manufacture et Musées
nationaux de Sèvres
• Forêt domaniale
des Fausses-Reposes
• Monuments Pershing –
Lafayette
• Château de Versailles
• Forêt domaniale de Meudon
• Parc André Citroën
• Eiffel Tower
• Musée Rodin
• Esplanade des Invalides (finish)

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