Vincent Zhou

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

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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.

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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.

Vincent Zhou changes coaches, to return at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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Olympian and world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou announced a coaching change, a gap year from Brown University and a return to competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in three weeks.

Zhou will now be coached by Lee Barkell and Lori Nichol in Toronto, and continue to work with Mie Hamada, after previously being coached in Colorado Springs by Tammy Gambill, Christy Krall and Tom Zakrajsek, according to U.S. Figure Skating.

Zhou trained with Gambill for the first part of his career, then moved to Colorado Springs in May 2015 to work with Zakrajsek. He still consulted with Gambill leading up to his Olympic appearance in 2018, then went back to a more formal role with Gambill and Hamada after last season.

Barkell’s students have included Canadian Olympians Jeffrey Buttle and Gabrielle Daleman. Nichol previously helped choreograph Zhou’s programs.

“I can’t thank Tammy, Christy and Tom enough for all they have done for me and my career,” Zhou said in a press release, adding on social media that the last few months were “very difficult.” “I’m excited to begin training with Lee, and also work more regularly with Lori, in Toronto, and continue to work with Mie.”

Zhou, 19, skipped the fall Grand Prix Series to focus on freshman year studies at Brown after competing at a lower-level event in September.

Zhou has been the closest American to Nathan Chen in recent years, taking a distant silver at nationals in 2017 and 2019 and bronze in 2018. The 2017 World junior champion broke through on the senior international level last season, taking bronze at worlds behind Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu.

The U.S. can send three men to senior worlds in March in Montreal.

Other contenders include 2014 Olympian Jason Brown and would-be world championships rookies Camden Pulkinen, Tomoki Hiwatashi and Alex Krasnozhon.

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MORE: Figure skating season TV schedule

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.

Cup of China TV, live stream schedule

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Anna Shcherbakova can lock up a spot at the Grand Prix Final this weekend at Cup of China, streaming live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers on Friday and Saturday.

Shcherbakova, 15, won Skate America while landing quads to kick off her debut senior Grand Prix season. Her biggest challengers for the podium will come from within her own country, from 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and 2019 European champion Sofia Samodurova. Keep an eye on Shcherbakova’s quads, of course, but also Tuktamysheva’s triple Axels. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara, a two-time world medalist, also makes her Grand Prix season debut in China.

The men’s side is a less clear picture. With the withdrawal of Vincent Zhou a few weeks ago, there is more room on the podium for the likes of China’s Jin Boyang, Canada’s Keegan Messing, and South Korea’s Cha Jun-Hwan.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete in back-to-back weekends as they head to China following a silver medal finish at Grand Prix France. Their biggest competition will likely come from training partners and fellow Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker as well at from Russians Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov. Skate America bronze medalists, Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen of Canada, should also make a push for the podium.

In pairs, the two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are easy favorites, especially at home. This is their first major international competition of the season. Last year, the team was sidelined by injuries for much of the early part of the season before coming back to win the world championships.

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.

MORE: Tuktamysheva, armed with triple Axel, fights to compete with Russian teens

Cup of China Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 2:30 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
4 a.m. Ladies’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
6 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
8 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 1:30 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
3:30 a.m. Ladies’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
5:45 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
8 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 12-1:30 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

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