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 Games, or to even go close to his skates.
Zhou expects to compete in the world championships in France subsequent week. But after what occurred to him finally month’s Beijing Olympics, he’s enduring what he calls “one of the most challenging times of my whole life.”
He is grieving his 2022 Olympic second that by no means was.
The morning after serving to the United States win a silver medal in the determine skating crew occasion, Zhou examined constructive for the coronavirus and needed to withdraw from the boys’s particular person occasion scheduled to start the subsequent day.
Stuck in a small lodge room for every week whereas he recovered from cold-like signs, he adopted the occasion on the web, too crushed to look at on TV. Afterward, he stated he was positive he might have gained not less than the bronze medal.
Zhou, 21, was launched from isolation in time to carry out in the determine skating gala, an occasion purely held as fan leisure. But that night time, when Zhou tried to board a bus to the closing ceremony along with his teammates, safety officers stopped him, insisting that he had not cleared Covid protocols.
In a name with reporters on Tuesday, Zhou stated he stood at that safety checkpoint for what felt like an hour arguing his case. After all, he was not contagious, had examined adverse 14 instances in a row and had perhaps a day or two left in his official post-isolation interval of avoiding crowds and what was referred to as “nonessential activities,” he stated. Could the guards see his facet and have some mercy? Could they not permit him this final attainable second of pleasure at a devastating Olympics that had gone so improper for him?
His pleading went nowhere.
“He couldn’t even have that tiny token of closure,” Drew Meekins, one among his coaches, stated.
Now Zhou is again coaching in Colorado Springs, the place a post-Olympic fog has kicked in. Many Olympians say this era after the 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 feeling even has a reputation: the Olympic hangover.
In Zhou’s case, the hangover has been so severe that at instances he has referred to as his coaches from his mattress, crying, Meekins stated, as a result of he couldn’t bear to go to the rink. He questions whether or not his life’s work was value it and asks, “Why me?”
It’s a good query. He double masked. He wore a face defend on flights. In China, he ate alone in the Olympic cafeteria, rigorously knocking down his masks between bites. He usually saved such a distance from others throughout the pandemic that he turned excruciatingly lonely, he stated final month.
And but, he examined constructive.
“I’m having a hard time keeping myself together right now talking about it,” Zhou, who’s from Palo Alto, Calif., stated to reporters on Tuesday. “I’m still currently in the middle of things. I’m definitely not out of it yet.”
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 Games to coaching for the world championships has been rocky. As Meekins has identified, grief comes in waves.
Sometimes, Meekins stated, he can see the burden of disappointment Zhou is carrying with him when Zhou walks into the rink. His head is down. His shoulders droop.
“You can just tell that his mind is so busy,” Meekins stated. “I could tell it’s occupied still trying to process what happened.”
Meekins and Tom Zakrajsek, Zhou’s different major coach, maintain an in depth eye on Zhou to ensure he feels supported. They’ve completed numerous listening. They’ve given him plenty of house.
Also, a sports activities psychologist from the United States Olympic coaching heart usually comes to look at Zhou’s practices. The two have spoken loads in the previous a number of weeks as Zhou works via these waves of sturdy feelings.
It’s essential for him to go to worlds, his coaches stated. Zhou might lastly discover that closure. It additionally would possibly 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.
In the autumn, he beat the three-time world champion Nathan Chen, handing him his first loss in greater than three years. He additionally certified for his first Grand Prix remaining, the place the highest of the highest skaters go face to face each season.
“My feeling is that Vincent competing at the world championships, no matter how he finishes, is going to be a show of how courageous he is and how he is a shining example of someone who came back from extreme adversity,” Zakrajsek stated.
Zhou has had the identical feeling. He has typically thought it could be straightforward to simply skip worlds and stroll away from the ache and dangerous recollections. His research at Brown University await him. And then he thinks, “I should maybe just try to forget about everything, just get on the ice, just go for it. Take the shot. Who knows? Maybe it will turn out well.”
Keeping the frustration out of his thoughts, nonetheless, has been a wrestle, he stated: “I step onto the ice and I’m instantly reminded of everything that happened.”
Still, he instructed reporters — and certain himself — that “probably 90, I don’t know, 95 percent of other people would have already given up.” And he’s not a kind of individuals.
He stated simply having the ability to take that first step and go to worlds would make him actually proud. He is attempting to will it to occur: Get on that aircraft. Put on that costume. Step out on that ice. Deep down, he stated, the motivation to try this nonetheless drives him.
“Life really wants to get me down right now,” he stated. “But I’m not ready to go down without a fight.”