Ice Network

Zhou returns to his roots, reunites with Gambill

Former U.S. junior champion to debut new programs at Glacier Falls
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Vincent Zhou hopes that going back to work with Tammy Gambill rekindles the magic that led him to the top of three U.S. podiums. -courtesy of Vincent Zhou

Vincent Zhou has gone back to his home base.

After leaving California to train in Colorado Springs last season, Zhou has returned to Riverside, California, and his previous coach, Tammy Gambill.

"I believe Tammy and her team have a great whole package and ability to guide me to being a more complete skater," Zhou said. "I feel that, as my skating develops, it's more important to be supported and guided than led. Some aspects of skating can only be changed by time, so it's very important to manage what we can carefully, to make sure my skating grows in the right direction. Tammy is great at doing these kinds of things, and I hope we'll go places."

After winning the 2013 U.S. junior title, Zhou missed the next two seasons due to injuries as well as making schoolwork a priority. When he resumed training in early 2015, he moved to Colorado Springs to work with Tom Zakrajsek and his team.

"With the help of Tom Zakrajsek's expertise, I got my triple axel, quad salchow and quad toe within six months, and made the Junior Grand Prix Final in my first year in the JGP circuit," Zhou said. "After years in online school, I experienced the life of a regular school student for one year. On top of everything, training at a high altitude was great for my stamina, and the setting was amazing. I had my first taste of the great outdoors -- whitewater rafting and hiking -- with Pikes Peak close by."

Zhou started working with Gambill in 2009, when he was only 9. He said there is a strong bond between the two of them.

"I know what she is going to say before she's even said it," he said. "I have great confidence in Tammy, and she has great confidence in me. She previously led me to three national titles in a row (Zhou also won U.S. titles in intermediate and novice), and I have high hopes that we can journey together to a new height."

Zhou will explore some fresh artistic avenues in the coming season. His new free skate, choreographed earlier this month by David Wilson, is to jazz music from the 1959 TV show Johnny Staccato, composed by Elmer Bernstein.

"It's a piece that's never been done before, as far as I know," Zhou said. "David had wanted to use it for four years now, and I came along looking for a more fun piece of music and a new style. The character is a jazz pianist who works as a detective to make ends meet, and I think there is great character behind the music, so we decided to use it and see what wonderful creation comes out!"

Hoping to show off a different side of his skating -- and himself -- this season, Zhou will pair his jazzy free skate with a short program to "Writing's on the Wall," combining the Sam Smith song with orchestral music from the James Bond movie Spectre, for which the song was written.

"We're trying to work on better skating skills and a more mature style, projecting to the audience and looking more like a senior man," Gambill said Monday. "I want to bring back some of that playfulness. Vincent can be pretty funny, and he's super smart. I got to see the long for the first time today, and it just made me smile the whole time."

The idea for the short, which is choreographed by Drew Meekins, originated in the dance studio. At first, neither Zhou nor Meekins thought of it as a potential program.

"'Writing's on the Wall' began as an interpretive piece that Drew and I used to develop music-based movement and flow," Zhou said. "However, that level of interpretation caused me to start thinking, 'If I can move to this and feel the music so well, why not try it out as a short program?'"

Meekins believes the program will show off Zhou's ability to skate to contemporary, lyrical music, and that it is the ideal vehicle to stretch the skater's boundaries as an artist.

"Vincent has a wonderful ability to feel music, and he also has really nice long lines through his arms and legs," Meekins said. "He has a great sense of how to use his core body; he doesn't have to stay in a rigid position with his spine. I saw him do contemporary in the dance studio and was amazed by his ability to feel that style of music and also to execute it. We hope people will start to grow what their perception is of Vincent and what he's capable of."

Zhou will debut his new programs at the Glacier Falls Sumer Classic in Anaheim at the end of the month. After that, he plans to compete at Skate San Francisco and the Golden West Championships.

In addition to stretching Zhou's artistic limits, Gambill is intent on increasing the difficulty of the skater's technical content.

"We're going to build up and try three quads in the long -- that's our goal," Gambill said. "He won't do any quads at Glacier Falls. I don't want to do too much with him; he had an injury after junior worlds, and he was off the ice for quite a bit, so he's building back up."

Zhou is entering his senior year of high school, which he will complete with Connections Academy, an online school.

"I don't have time for regular school, and I need the flexibility that online school provides," he said.

Zhou said his parents, who are from China, are both highly educated and tech-savvy. His mother worked for Oracle before quitting her job to support Zhou's skating, and his father works for Google. Zhou's sister will be starting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall, and Zhou is starting to think about college himself.

"I'm going to apply to a few colleges this fall but not many, because the colleges have to be both academically excellent and close to my training," Zhou said. "I don't have a list yet, but it will certainly include University of California colleges. I'm going to take a gap year after graduating from high school."

In the meantime, Zhou will shoot for the podium in Kansas City next January, looking to become one of the leaders of a new generation of U.S. skaters who were born in the 21st century -- and who possess programs stuffed with quad jumps.

"Vincent is perfectly capable of doing all the quads," Gambill asserted. "If anybody can, it will be Vincent. He says he's just wired that way. He truly believes he can do it, and that's half that battle."