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With his back problems now behind him, Vincent Zhou is looking forward, not backward, at what might have been last season.
The 17-year-old California native is aiming to get back on track at Skate America next week after his season opener did not go quite as planned.
“I competed at the U.S. Classic. It was all right. I did what I could for the time being,” he said. “I had a difficult summer, struggling with a recurring back problem. The good news is that it is all fixed up now. I have been training without major interruption for about two or three weeks. It feels great to finally be able to get into the proper rhythm.”
Zhou said he never “personally figured out what (my back problem) was — (maybe) muscle problems. It was the same back injury that started to happen the day before I left for Worlds. After Worlds I thought I would have a nice rest and get healed up. But I had shows and choreography and I could not stay off the ice. I had a show in Korea — which was a weeklong trip — and another international trip after that. Then I had some stops on Stars on Ice.”
Lori Nichol choreographed his short program this season. Zhou said working with her was “quite an experience. I had never really had such a connection to music and movement before working with her, so it was such a great opportunity to have her expertise. She has so much experience working with world-class skaters. Just choreographing the program was quite an experience.
“The music (“Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3” by Muse) is a piece I have always liked. It was not the first thing in my mind but as I was sitting with Lori and discussing ideas it popped up. There is a really moving animated video to the song that makes me feel something. I felt that the program would come out with true emotion.
“I showed it (the video) to Lori and she was a little surprised. After I suggested it, she sort of had a fresh perspective, with new ideas coming along. We tried it out and we also tried out some other pieces. In the end when we got done, this just worked the best. We finished the program and it turned out so well.
“I learned a lot about the different feelings you can create with movement. Lori really helped me connect with imagery and rhythm. I have continued developing my knowledge and understanding of movement with Tom Dickson in Colorado Springs.”
Jeffrey Buttle crafted the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Rising Sun,” long program. “He is always a pleasure to work with. He consistently puts out good programs for me,” Zhou said. “This year we kind of wanted to do something I haven’t done in a long time. You don’t see Asian-themed programs too much and I thought it would be good. It has an appeal as a lot of the skating community is Asian, so if I can do something they can relate to it’s a win-win.”
Zhou said he hopes to be in the running for gold at the 2020 Olympics and wants to understand what it is like to skate to that style of music. “I have also taken a few lessons and sessions with martial arts instructors so I can understand the positions a little better.”
When asked what he worked on over the summer to improve his component scores, Zhou admitted he had a mental reset after the Olympic Winter Games. “The best way I could get enough points to make the Olympic team was going for all the quads (at nationals). But during the offseason, after doing some shows and choreography and putting extremely low emphasis on pumping out 100,000 quads a day, my skating was naturally able to improve.
“I have always found that my ability to improve is surprisingly fast. Once my body is healthy I am able to go from not skating for a month to full-out programs in just a couple of days. I had time during the summer to let my skating get better, and let my skating into jumps look a little more connected.
“During my back injury I was able to spend some time being able to skate without jumping and that allowed me to put more focus on the other things. Maybe the back injury was a blessing in disguise. I have made it pretty clear to my team that I don’t want it to be all about jumps this season.
“I am really excited to show my improvement, not just in the jumps aspect. I am still being ambitious with my jumps but I am trying not to make them the main focus.”
His plan is to defer attending college for a couple of years, but wants to broaden his horizons. “Skating is not going to last forever, so I have heard.”