A ‘Euphoric Rush’: Olympic Figure Skater Reflects on Sports’ Biggest Stage

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Graphic by Laura Renfroe; Photo by Roberto Bregani / EPA

American figure skater Vincent Zhou shines in men’s skating with his intensely personal artistry and hopes for an Olympic medal to add to his repertoire as he reminisces on his experiences in PyeongChang.

Laura Renfroe, Staff Writer

Just by first glance, everything about the 17-year-old who stood center stage at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games radiated burning vitality. 

The red sequins on his shirt faintly shimmered against the ice as his hands hung modestly at his side, the blades on his shoes poised in anticipation. He took a steadying breath as the music shattered across the silence, lethal and gentle.

He moved with the music, spreading his arms up and forward with a memory held within his very muscles, his feet gliding across the ice in cursive movements. This single moment would stick with him forever.

With an emotive talent that holds no boundaries, American figure skater Vincent Zhou certainly knows how to make an impact on the ice stage, and his efforts have not gone unnoticed. 

Zhou is the 2019 World bronze medalist, the 2019 Four Continents bronze medalist, the 2018 CS Tallinn Trophy silver medalist, sixth in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, and the 2017 CS Finlandia Trophy silver medalist. To add to this impressive record, Zhou is a three-time U.S. national silver medalist. 

Zhou, ever the virtuosic, showed physical and musical prowess as early as age five as he sped around the skating rink at a friend’s party while his peers scrambled to find their footing. 

The American athlete started his senior figure skating career at age 15, finishing top ten in the country, then climbing his way up to eventually compete in South Korea for sports’ largest celebration at age 17.

As the youngest U.S. delegate in South Korea for the 2018 Olympics, Zhou reflected on any nerves he felt on the renowned ice rink.  

“I was only 17 and the youngest team USA member at the 2018 Olympics, so I was just soaking it all in one day at a time,” Zhou told me. “The whole thing was surreal and I think the adrenaline and high of the situation overrode any pressure.”

Zhou skated with sleek mastery at the Olympics, debuting at 12th place with his short program and proceeding to move up to 6th with a personal-best free skate.  

Notably, Zhou made history twice by becoming the first person to land the quadruple Lutz jump in Olympic competition, once in his short program and again in his free skate. 

Despite the weighty competition and historic legacy that surfaced before Zhou on the rink, he expressed to me that he never really felt the burden. “Of course I was nervous–but I never really processed the enormous pressure. I was too busy being starstruck!” 

In the season following the Olympics, Zhou suffered from a tumultuous setback with shoulder and back injuries.  

Yet sheer resilience drove Zhou, allowing him to bounce back to place third at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships, sharing the podium with two of the most avant-garde figure skaters of this generation, Nathan Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu. 

Zhou has since developed an undeniable hunger for an Olympic medal, prioritizing extensive training in Colorado Springs as the Beijing games loom only 6 months away. 

With Tokyo’s Olympic flame extinguishing with hushed sighs of relief last month, all eyes now turn to China for the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games. 

While pandemic concerns and controversies still threaten the possibility of a full audience, the games are set to be held from February 4-20, 2022, and winter athletes are itching to experience the rush again that only being on an Olympic team can bring. 

The Beijing Olympics are certainly expected to face certain disparities due to Covid-19, as reflected from the Tokyo games. The gleaming domed arena that would typically be overflowing with colorful blends of country flags and banners dimmed to expanses of empty seats filled only with team members and staff. 

The lack of audience undoubtedly seemed to have an impact on many athletes, but the overwhelming digital support from fans and families through social media and video calls brought a level of comfort within the distorted circumstances.

After pondering his most cherished memory from his 2018 Olympic journey, Zhou told me it was “definitely the moment I received the text message that named me to the Olympic team.”

“It came at 12:31 AM, hours after the competition at Nationals concluded with me in 3rd place but no verifiable; obvious team choice was in consensus. Everyone was on the edge of their seats waiting for the announcement, and even though I had finished competing, the weight on my shoulders had not lifted,” Zhou reflected.

“Every buzz of anyone’s phone was like an electric shock to my system,” the Olympian went on. “And when the text came, it was one of the most intensely euphoric rush of emotions I’d ever felt. It was truly a moment I’ll remember forever.”

Vincent Zhou announced his 2021-22 free skate music this spring, a piece from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The program, specially crafted by Zhou and Lori Nichol, looks to be a work of heart and sweat, woven flawlessly with shimmering music and mature moves to honor Zhou’s heritage.

The choreography was hinted on Youtube, under which Zhou wrote how he aspires to perform this meaningful program at the 2022 Olympic games in Beijing. 

“As a Chinese American, and the son of Chinese immigrants, skating this program says very clearly what I firmly believe: I am proud of my heritage, I am proud of my culture, and I am proud to be Asian-American,” Zhou expressed in the video’s caption. “The prospect of skating this program at the 2022 Olympic games in Beijing would be a dream come true, and would make all of what I said even more meaningful to me.”

On June 11, Zhou announced his short program for the year, “Vincent (Starry Starry Night.)” The returning program will allow him to boast his flair and utilize his skills.

Make sure to keep a deliberate eye on this soaring American skater as the Winter Olympics approach. One could ill afford to miss out watching a skater of Zhou’s caliber.

With an entirely unique and norm-defying skating style and growing popularity on the global scale, Zhou is expected to keep producing talent as a rising star in men’s skating throughout the current season, and conceivably into Beijing, his ultimate “end game.”