Vincent Zhou

Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou not entered in figure skating Grand Prix Series

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Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou, the U.S.’ top two male singles figure skaters, are not entered in the autumn Grand Prix Series after both said they will return to university studies and may not compete again.

None of the reigning Olympic gold medalists are entered in the Grand Prix Series: Anna Shcherbakova and all of the Russians are banned indefinitely for the war in Ukraine, the Chinese pair of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong have not publicly said why they are sitting out and French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron previously said they are taking this season off.

None of the U.S. singles skaters from the Beijing Olympics are on the entry lists — Chen, Zhou, Jason BrownAlysa LiuMariah Bell and Karen Chen — though skaters can still be added to fields.

GRAND PRIX ENTRIES: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Chen, a 23-year-old who won Olympic gold in February, plans to return to Yale late this summer and said in May that he doesn’t think he will compete next season and doesn’t know if he will ever return to competition.

Zhou, a 21-year-old who could not compete individually at the Olympics due to COVID, has said he will go back to Brown University this summer and did not know if he could balance competitive skating and classes. Zhou took bronze at March’s world championships, which Chen skipped.

Brown, a 27-year-old who was sixth at the Olympics, is on “a mini break from the competitive grind of training” and will reevaluate next steps in the fall, a representative said.

The top returning U.S. men’s skater is Ilia Malinin, the 17-year-old world junior champion.

Bell, 26 and the reigning national champion, hasn’t made any future decisions other than not competing in this year’s Grand Prix Series, a representative said.

Other U.S. Olympic skaters previously announced retirements — ice dance bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and world bronze medalist Liu. The pairs’ team of Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc said they are stepping away from competitive skating.

The other top Americans who are entered in the Grand Prix Series include world pairs’ champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, three-time world ice dance medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, world junior champion Isabeau Levito and 2018 U.S. Olympian Bradie Tennell.

The Grand Prix Series begins with Skate America from Oct. 21-23 in Norwood, Massachusetts.

Russia and China, which are normally stops on the six-event circuit, will not stage events this season — Russia stripped for the war in Ukraine, and China after its figure skating federation said “it was no longer feasible” to hold an event this year. In late March, Russia’s Match TV reported that the International Skating Union intended to replace the China stop for a second consecutive year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, Great Britain and Finland will host, along with the U.S., Canada, France and Japan leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is in Italy this season.

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With a surprising medal at worlds, Vincent Zhou starts to step out of his Olympic pit

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Vincent Zhou apologized a couple days ago for sounding like a broken record, stuck at the point of describing his Olympic nightmare, a story that sounded just as poignant and painful in every retelling.

The fates conspired to overwhelm Zhou last month in Beijing, leaving him to deal with the sadness of missed opportunities while spending a week in COVID-19 quarantine.

It was bad enough that a positive COVID-19 test forced him to withdraw from the singles competition after having helped the U.S. finish second to the Russian Olympic Committee in the team event. Then he lost the chance to celebrate the team medal in Beijing because the doping case involving Russian Kamila Valieva meant that medal presentation has been delayed until it is resolved, likely several months from now.

Finally, there was insult added to injury: when Zhou tried to board the bus for the Closing Ceremony, where he hoped to find some redemptive joy in his Olympic experience, an official said he had been identified as a COVID-19 close contact and could not go.

Three weeks later, waking up with the sense of being in what he called a “bottomless pit,” Zhou told his agent and coaches and others close to him that he felt his whole career has been a failure and for nothing.

In that mental state, he was ready to drop out of the World Championships in Montpellier, France, until another emotion took over, the feeling of not wanting to live with the regret of not having tried. Somehow, Zhou pulled himself together to do more than just try, and he wound up skating well enough to win the bronze medal, a result that reminded the two-time Olympian not to lose faith in himself.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

“This is definitely one of the most significant and meaningful moments of my career,” said Zhou, 21, also a world bronze medalist in 2019.

With a sixth in Thursday’s short program and a fourth in Saturday’s free skate, Zhou finished third with 277.38 points to two Japanese skaters, Shoma Uno (312.48) and Yuma Kagiyama (297.60.)

“The most important lesson for me is no matter the difficulties thrown at you, you just have to keep moving forward,” Zhou said. “If you can’t move forward one step at a time, move forward half a step at a time.”

Zhou’s unexpected medal was not the only surprising result for the U.S. men.

Camden Pulkinen, who said immediately after finishing the free that his performance showed he could “contend for the top 10,” did far better, moving from 12th in the short program to fifth overall. Pulkinen was third in the free, where he had two solid quads in the first clean (no negative grades of execution) free skate of a seven-year international career.

It also was the only clean free among the top 20 men in Montpellier. It was good enough for Pulkinen to beat his old free skate and total personal bests by some 26 points, with scores of 182.19 and 271.69.

“I’m happy I gave myself a nice 22nd birthday present,” said Pulkinen, whose birthday was Friday.

Ilia Malinin, who dazzled the world in finishing second at January’s U.S. Championships, was in the thick of world medal contention after finishing fourth in the short. After opening the free with two lights-out quads, lutz and toe loop, and a big triple axel, he had a hard fall on a quad salchow and came undone, making two more major mistakes to finish 11th in the free and ninth overall.

“It was just a mess,” said Malinin, 17, the youngest in the men’s singles field. “It’s hard to explain what happened.”

Zhou’s mistakes included four jumps that were called short of the intended number of rotations. Solid grades of execution on his first two quads made back enough of the lost points to give him a margin of 5.35 over fourth finisher Morisi Kvitelashvili of Georgia, who needed very generous scores to stay .34 ahead of Pulkinen.

“Obviously, I’m a little disappointed in the mistakes, but as I said after the short program, it’s a miracle for me even being here,” Zhou said.

It would be nice if this medal allowed him to wipe the 2022 Olympics from his memory. It would also be unrealistic. The record may no longer be stuck, but the scratch that caused it to play on a maddening loop still is there.

“The grief of losing my opportunity at the Olympics is something that will stay with me a long time,” Zhou said. “Dealing with mental or emotional trauma like that, for lack of a better word, sometimes takes month and years.

“I’m sure there will be some difficult times for me ahead, where I still have to process the feelings related to what happened at the Olympics.”

For Zhou, the days ahead also will include a busy show schedule and, in August, resuming studies at Brown University. He left after his first semester in December 2019 because of issues with finding practice ice and his need to have face-to-face coaching.

Zhou had suddenly moved into the world elite at 17 with an unforeseen, impressive and expectation-raising sixth at the 2018 Olympics. At the end of a subsequent four-year cycle that was draining even before his 2022 Olympic calamity, Zhou is ready to take time just to enjoy being on the ice before thinking of whether he wants to keep competing.

“But the decision to come here and compete and walking away with a medal will help me a lot and reinforce my faith in myself,” Zhou said. “There is a lot more deep within me than I think is possible at times.”

A broken record can only move ahead in a new groove.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at every Winter Olympics since 1980, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Shoma Uno wins first skating world title as Vincent Zhou returns to podium

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Shoma Uno finally claimed a long-awaited world title at the 2022 World Figure Skating Championships on Saturday.

After placing second at the event in 2017 and 2018, then fourth in 2019 and 2021, Uno now found himself atop the podium. He also has an Olympic silver medal from 2018 and bronze from this year’s Winter Games, making this gold all the sweeter.

“I’m very happy of this achievement, I worked very hard,” said Uno, whose winning free skate included five quadruple jumps, two of which were under-rotated. “I’m very excited to finally be first.”

The 24-year-old scored personal bests across the board with 109.63 in the short (previous: 109.50), 202.85 in the free (previous: 197.36) and 312.48 total. His prior personal best total was 293.00 from the Olympics.

The competition was missing both Nathan Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu, who combined to win the past three Olympic and five of the last seven world titles.

Uno was joined on the podium by Japanese teammate Yuma Kagiyama, who at age 18 repeats his silver-medal performance from his debut worlds last year, and American Vincent Zhou, who made an unexpected return to the medals after missing the Olympic men’s singles event.

Kagiyama’s total of 297.60 was 12.45 fewer than the score that earned him Olympic silver last month.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Zhou had a wild ride to this competition and an inconsistent history at worlds, to say the least, but it seemed to all pay off with a storybook ending in Montpellier, France.

The 2017 junior world champion was sixth at the 2018 Winter Olympics, where he was the first to land a quadruple lutz at the Games, then a disappointing 14th at his first senior worlds the following month.

He rose to bronze at the 2019 worlds, putting out the performances he had been seeking and marking himself as an Olympic medal contender. Later in the season he helped the U.S. win World Team Trophy with a combined personal score of 299.01 — the closest he has come to his goal of 300 points.

After worlds was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, Zhou returned to that stage in 2021 with a shockingly poor short program performance that placed him 25th — one spot shy of even advancing to the free skate.

Now 21, Zhou worked to return to show he was still one of the best in the world for this year’s Olympics, but that opportunity was taken away from him. He helped the U.S. finish second in the team event, then tested positive for Covid the day after his free skate and was unable to compete in the men’s singles competition (or walk in the Closing Ceremony two weeks later).

After waiting approximately 45 more days to finally compete, Zhou’s patience, hard work and determination paid off, despite the mental struggles he battled during that time. He was sixth in the short program with 95.84 points and fourth in the free with 181.54, and both results were enough to give him the bronze medal overall with a 277.38 total.

“I feel very, very proud of myself,” Zhou said. “I couldn’t do anything in training leading up to this. I was mentally just in a very bad place, but I got myself on a plane, I got myself together, I took it one practice at a time, and now I put out two strong performances. I’m so proud of myself.”

Teammate and training mate Camden Pulkinen earned a ‘small medal’ for having the third-highest scoring free skate; it is his first senior international medal. He rebounded from placing 12th in the short program to finish fifth overall at his first worlds.

Pulkinen’s previous best free skate score was 155.73 from Skate Canada in 2019. In Montpellier, he earned 182.19 points for his free.

A 2016 Youth Olympian, Pulkinen was fifth at this season’s U.S. Championships. He was added to the world team after Chen withdrew with a nagging injury and two-time Olympian Jason Brown declined his first alternate spot.

Meanwhile, the third American – Ilia Malinin – who had the best chance to medal after sitting fourth from the short program, fell on his quad salchow and seemed to lose all momentum from there. With the 11th-best free skate, the 17-year-old dropped to ninth. He will finish his season next month at the junior world championships.

“I put pressure on myself wanting to skate good so badly, and it didn’t work out,” Malinin said.

Kazuki Tomono, who was third in the short program and hoping to be part of a historic Japanese sweep, ended in sixth after a handful of errors in the free skate that included a fall on his quad salchow as well.

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