Vincent Zhou was born October 25, 2000, making him just 17 – and the youngest U.S. Olympian competing in PyeongChang, South Korea.
(The youngest U.S. Olympian from Sochi 2014 was also a figure skater: Polina Edmunds, then 15, finished ninth in the ladies’ event.)
At the 2017 U.S. Nationals, Zhou put himself on the map and into the Olympic conversation. He included three quadruple jumps between his short and long programs to earn the silver medal behind Nathan Chen. He was nominated to the world junior championship team – not the senior level – where he was fifth in the short program but rallied with a three-quad free skate to capture the gold.
It was the first world junior title for a U.S. man since 2013. Before that, Zhou’s Olympic teammate Adam Rippon won back-to-back world junior titles in 2008 and 2009, the only man to accomplish that feat.
Any time a skater transitions from the junior to senior levels, they are prepared for some turbulence. For Zhou, that came in the form of a fourth-place finish and a ninth-place finish at his two Grand Prix assignments. After he bottomed out in France, Zhou posted a handwritten, heartfelt message to Instagram, in part, reading:
“I am Vincent Zhou. I am young, ambitious, hungry, and motivated. But most importantly, I am still learning.”
The 17-year-old part-time poet (he posts his work to his other Instagram account: @artworkofthemind) explained before Nationals in January in a recent media teleconference that ascending the ranks was difficult, but something he was trying to manage in an important year.
“I know that I’m able to do all the quads that everyone else can do,” he said. “That’s the reason that I’m compared with other people who can do the quads, who are the top skaters in the world. But my artistry, my performance, my component scores, have yet to catch up. It’s hard trying to balance the two, especially in my first year senior. And also, it being an Olympic year. That’s a lot to handle for a first-year senior at 16 to 17 years old.”
His strategy of taking the season one competition at a time seemed to pay off. At the 2018 Nationals in San Jose, Calif. – incidentally, where Zhou was born – he landed on the podium with a bronze medal. He attempted five quads in his free skate, though he only was credited with full rotations on one of them. He was named to the Olympic team.
“Not many people are doing five quads right now,” Zhou said in a more recent teleconference, adding that he’s been hitting five quads cleanly in his run-throughs in practice at home. “It’s something that not really that many people are able to do. To do five quads cleanly, and I’m one of those people trying to figure it out and be ambitious and work on it. It’s all a process, and I feel like I’m doing a great job of managing it.”
As far as his Olympic expectations go, Zhou’s approach seems to be a realistic one. He said he has an “uncanny sense of situational awareness” surrounding the men’s field in PyeongChang.
“I think that if everybody skates clean, of course, I’m not going to be on the podium,” he said. “I don’t like to focus on what other people do. I’m just gonna try my best to skate the way I train. Who knows? There might be a miracle. I might end up on the podium. It’s going to be best to not think about the big picture – just take it one element at a time.
“The Olympics is something truly special. I hope I’ll get to enjoy more than one. I’m just gonna try to take it day by day. Try and enjoy myself while there, meet some great athletes from all over the world, watch some other sports, and have a great time while I’m there.”