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American figure skater Vincent Zhou is out of quarantine after being tested positive for COVID-19 at the Games in Beijing, and he plans to perform in the exhibition gala, which traditionally closes at Olympic program Sunday.
Zhou had just helped the United States win team silver on February 7, when he received a phone call that he had tested positive. He was immediately driven to a quarantine hotel about 30 minutes from the Olympic Village, where he spent about a week confined to his room training, listening to music and “watching Netflix for the first time.”
The timing of the result, the day before the men’s short program, left him with no choice but to withdraw from the event.
“The symptoms I had were honestly milder than your average cold or flu,” Zhou said. “It felt like a mild cold. I think the worst was probably a sore throat and a little congestion. It was like the worst.”
Zhou said he did not watch the men’s program because “it was too emotionally difficult,” but he kept track of the results and was happy to see his teammates perform well. Nathan Chen won the gold medal with his memorable freestyle for Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, while Jason Brown finished in a respectable sixth place.
“It was also hard to see the results because I knew I could medal,” said Zhou, who was fifth at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. “I had consistently trained at a level to score like that and win a bronze medal. It was a difficult day for me.”
There were some much better moments during his quarantine period, including a supportive message he received from singer Josh Groban, who performs the music that Zhou uses during his free skate.
Zhou still does not know how he got the virus, especially considering the care he took care of before the competition. He said he used hand alcohol for half a liter, lived a solitary lifestyle and wore a mask wherever he went, including the dining room, where he put it back over his mouth between chunks of food.
“I do not want to sound like a broken record,” he said, “but everything except moving to Antarctica, I have taken precautions. I just think it’s really unfortunate. An accident. I honestly do not know how I got it.”
Zhou will still leave Beijing with a medal from the team event, though no one is sure what color or how he will receive it. The International Olympic Committee refuses to hold a medal ceremony after being told that Russian skater Kamila Valieva was tested positive for a banned substance in December, which put her team’s gold medal in doubt.
Valieva was approved to appear in the women’s competition by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but it did not rule on the whole case. The results of a complete study, and what it means for the team event, may not be known for several months.
“It’s still a developmental situation, and it’s also something that’s completely beyond my control, and any of the other athletes’ control,” Zhou said. “I can not really comment on what is going on there, but I hope Team USA receives our medal eventually and hopefully it does not take four years or whatever.”
Zhou also acknowledged that “fair play and the integrity of the sport” is of paramount importance to him.
“I can only say that I am proud to have competed purely all my life,” he said. “It’s definitely a pretty shocking and, you know, scary situation we’re in here, where the ladies – I would totally understand if the ladies did not exactly trust the integrity of the competition and the fairness of everything.”
After appearing in the exhibition gala on Sunday, Zhou plans to return to the United States and prepare for the World Cup the last week of March in Montpellier, France. He also plans to tour with Stars on Ice before resuming his studies at Brown University this fall, but he has not decided whether he will continue to skate competitively for yet another Olympic cycle.
Zhou only turns 22 in October, which means a third trip to the Winter Games is within reach.
“I’m just as impressed with the level of Olympic performance that all the men were able to bring out,” he said. “It’s a real honor to have been able to compete with these incredible men this past season.”