In a teleconference call on Tue., Jan. 8, Vincent Zhou spoke about his preparation for the 2019 U.S. Championships, the work he has been doing to address the full rotation of his jumps, and improving the artistic side of his skating.

Though his back problems are now in the past — which Zhou said was “some sort of muscle injury” — it has not been an easy ride for the 18-year-old California native.

The latter half of 2018 did not get off to a great start. Zhou finished fourth at the International Classic, and fifth at his first Grand Prix, Skate America. A week before he headed to his second event, NHK Trophy, he dislocated his shoulder in a fall on the ice. The injury rendered him unable to prepare for his second event. “That was the cause of me cutting back on technical content in Japan,” Zhou explained. “I dislocated it on a Monday and was not able to train for the entire week. So my first day on the ice was a short private ice session the day of my flight to Japan, and when I got there I just felt really out of it. Honestly, my performances were more than I could have hoped for at the beginning of the previous week.

“After Japan, training was a little bit rough because after going through all that, and coming back starting training right away — it is never an easy process. But, I worked hard on getting myself back into shape and I skated decently in Estonia (where he placed second). After that, I started training really well because I had time to sit down, take a breath and get a fresh start.”

Zhou was asked about the issue of under-rotation calls at Skate America and the reactions and opinions of fans on social media. “I was aware of it. The only thing that it’s really done for me is to push me to make my jumps cleaner,” he said. “One of my number one focuses since then has been making the rotations clearer and that is one of the things people will see in Detroit because I have been training better in that aspect.

“As for all the chatter and stuff … The skating community has people from all different walks of life with different levels of experience in the sport, so I try to stay out of it because you never know if someone is educated or uneducated. And 2019 social media people can get pretty toxic so it is definitely good to keep my head out of that. The more I read how people judge me the more I lose my sense of self, so it is important to not let that affect me.”

Following his return from his last competition in Estonia, Zhou went to Toronto to make changes to his programs. “Shortly after Tallinn Trophy I was able to go to Toronto for a week to rework my programs with Lori Nichol on the short and Jeff Buttle on the free. We made some pretty significant changes to them and I feel they are much better than before. Not only have the programs improved but spending a week in Toronto without hammering away at the quads helped me kind of — I don’t want to say rediscover — but helped me kind of find out how much I really enjoy the creative process and the freedom and the flow that comes with just good skating.

“I value that much more and I hope that it shows when I skate. It is very difficult to be in the river current of just the pure unadulterated flow of a program to choreography because doing quads kind of snaps you out of that. But I am trying to integrate the two and it is a work in progress, for sure. There have been pretty significant changes and good ones too.”

Zhou knows his jumps are now on every judge’s radar and said he came to terms with the fact that he needed to rework them. He is also aware that the high-risk/high reward quads have not paid off this season.

“It has not been easy redefining my standard of what is OK in terms of rotation or not, but I am getting much stronger in that aspect,” he said. “I know that people now have an eagle eye on my jump landings, but that does not really bother me too much. I am more concerned about how well my program flows than going for super difficult jumps — a ton of them.

“The numbers this season speak for themselves. They (the judges) are rewarding cleaner well-executed programs as opposed to ambitious programs that might not be executed so well. So, I am trying to focus on the overall quality rather than attempting five or six quads and hoping that I land them all.”

Zhou currently trains with three highly experienced coaches: Tammy Gambill, Tom Zakrajsek, and Christy Krall who work on different aspects of his skating. 

“Their roles overlap a little but they are all great at what they do,” Zhou said. “Tammy trains my programs in sections and kind of packages things together. She has also been spearheading the effort to redefine my standard of acceptable rotation on jumps.

“Tom’s technical knowledge is quite incredible actually, and his work on training my jumps has been giving me better results in my training recently.

“Christy Krall — I love her so much. She is like an old soul and we connect very well. She is really good at not just training the jumps, but works on the spins and transitions and in-between stuff, and helps make me feel better when I am skating those things so I can emote more outwardly.

“In addition to my three main coaches, I have also been doing a lot of choreography with Tom Dickson recently. He has been helping me with my movement, my positions, the flow of my edges and the transitions from step-to-step, edge-to-edge. He teaches figures and kind of goes back to the basics and I find that helps a lot.

“Making changes is always scary because humans are creatures of habit. So, when you are stuck in a period of routine of training it can become difficult to start trying new things, which is why my week in Toronto, working with Lori and Jeff — specifically Jeff for the free skate — helped me so much.

“The last few weeks since then I have been getting used to the changes in the program, and filling in some of the blank spots that choreography can leave. I have been working on my movement a lot in both the short and the free and will continue doing so for the next two weeks. I am going to continue improving that.”

Zhou said he is heading into the 2019 U.S. Championships with a different mindset than last season. “For me it is not about duplicating what happened last year but moving beyond it. My skating is in a different place than it was last year

“Last season was my first in seniors internationally and it also happened to be an Olympic season. I so badly wanted to make the Olympic team. I knew the only way that was going to happen was by getting my technical score up because your components simply don’t skyrocket in your first year as a senior. So, I had to get points some other way.

“However, this season I wanted to make it more about improving the quality of my skating and programs. It has been difficult to do that because after the difficult summer I had, getting my jumps back to where they were before was harder than I expected — a more tedious and obstacle-ridden process than I anticipated. As a result, I had to put a lot more focus on the jumps and I was not able to put the two sides of skating together as well as I wanted to.

“But I have had more of an opportunity to do that since Tallinn and I am really looking forward to showing that in Detroit. I am ready for nationals.”