After a lifetime of coaching for the Olympics and making it there as a determine skater twice, Vincent Zhou now has moments when it’s too painful for him to consider the Winter Video games, or to even go close to his skates.
Zhou expects to compete on this planet championships in France subsequent week. However after what occurred to him ultimately month’s Beijing Olympics, he’s enduring what he calls “one of the vital difficult occasions of my complete life.”
He’s grieving his 2022 Olympic second that by no means was.
The morning after serving to the US win a silver medal within the determine skating staff occasion, Zhou examined optimistic for the coronavirus and needed to withdraw from the lads’s particular person occasion scheduled to start the following day.
Caught in a small lodge room for per week whereas he recovered from cold-like signs, he adopted the occasion on the web, too crushed to look at on TV. Afterward, he mentioned he was certain he might have received at the very least the bronze medal.
Zhou, 21, was launched from isolation in time to carry out within the determine skating gala, an occasion purely held as fan leisure. However that night time, when Zhou tried to board a bus to the closing ceremony together with his teammates, safety officers stopped him, insisting that he had not cleared Covid protocols.
In a name with reporters on Tuesday, Zhou mentioned he stood at that safety checkpoint for what felt like an hour arguing his case. In spite of everything, he was not contagious, had examined destructive 14 occasions in a row and had possibly a day or two left in his official post-isolation interval of avoiding crowds and what was known as “nonessential actions,” he mentioned. Might the guards see his aspect and have some mercy? Might they not enable him this final attainable second of pleasure at a devastating Olympics that had gone so mistaken for him?
His pleading went nowhere.
“He couldn’t even have that tiny token of closure,” Drew Meekins, considered one of his coaches, mentioned.
Now Zhou is again coaching in Colorado Springs, the place a post-Olympic fog has kicked in. Many Olympians say this era after the Video games is especially troublesome as a result of they go from an adrenaline excessive to an excessive low, the place they’re devoid of bodily and emotional vitality. This sense even has a reputation: the Olympic hangover.
In Zhou’s case, the hangover has been so severe that at occasions he has known as his coaches from his mattress, crying, Meekins mentioned, as a result of he couldn’t bear to go to the rink. He questions whether or not his life’s work was price it and asks, “Why me?”
It’s a good query. He double masked. He wore a face protect on flights. In China, he ate alone within the Olympic cafeteria, fastidiously flattening his masks between bites. He typically saved such a distance from others through the pandemic that he turned excruciatingly lonely, he mentioned final month.
And but, he examined optimistic.
“I’m having a tough time preserving myself collectively proper now speaking about it,” Zhou, who’s from Palo Alto, Calif., mentioned to reporters on Tuesday. “I’m nonetheless presently in the midst of issues. I’m positively not out of it but.”
To win again management of his profession after Covid had rendered him helpless over it, Zhou dove proper again into coaching after getting back from China. The transition, although, from the trauma of the Video games to coaching for the world championships has been rocky. As Meekins has identified, grief is available in waves.
Typically, Meekins mentioned, he can see the load of disappointment Zhou is carrying with him when Zhou walks into the rink. His head is down. His shoulders droop.
“You may simply inform that his thoughts is so busy,” Meekins mentioned. “I might inform it’s occupied nonetheless making an attempt to course of what occurred.”
Meekins and Tom Zakrajsek, Zhou’s different predominant coach, preserve an in depth eye on Zhou to ensure he feels supported. They’ve completed a number of listening. They’ve given him a number of area.
Additionally, a sports activities psychologist from the US Olympic coaching heart typically comes to look at Zhou’s practices. The 2 have spoken so much up to now a number of weeks as Zhou works by means of these waves of sturdy feelings.
It’s essential for him to go to worlds, his coaches mentioned. Zhou might lastly discover that closure. It additionally may remind him of what skating was like earlier than Beijing. It had by no means been higher. In some ways, he had by no means liked it extra.
Within the fall, he beat the three-time world champion Nathan Chen, handing him his first loss in additional than three years. He additionally certified for his first Grand Prix last, the place the highest of the highest skaters go face to face each season.
“My feeling is that Vincent competing on the world championships, regardless of how he finishes, goes to be a present of how brave he’s and the way he’s a shining instance of somebody who got here again from excessive adversity,” Zakrajsek mentioned.
Zhou has had the identical feeling. He has typically thought it might be simple to only skip worlds and stroll away from the ache and dangerous recollections. His research at Brown College await him. After which he thinks, “I ought to possibly simply attempt to neglect about every little thing, simply get on the ice, simply go for it. Take the shot. Who is aware of? Perhaps it should prove effectively.”
Conserving the frustration out of his thoughts, nevertheless, has been a wrestle, he mentioned: “I step onto the ice and I’m immediately reminded of every little thing that occurred.”
Nonetheless, he instructed reporters — and certain himself — that “most likely 90, I don’t know, 95 p.c of different folks would have already given up.” And he’s not a type of folks.
He mentioned simply having the ability to take that first step and go to worlds would make him actually proud. He’s making an attempt to will it to occur: Get on that aircraft. Placed on that costume. Step out on that ice. Deep down, he mentioned, the motivation to try this nonetheless drives him.
“Life actually desires to get me down proper now,” he mentioned. “However I’m not able to go down with no struggle.”