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Vincent Zhou is still working to put his heartbreaking Beijing Olympics behind him

A positive coronavirus test kept Vincent Zhou from competing in the men's event at the Beijing Olympics. (Bernat Armangue/AP)

Three weeks following his return home after his time at the Beijing Olympics ended prematurely because of a positive coronavirus test, U.S. figure skating star Vincent Zhou said he is struggling to get over what he called “one of the most challenging times of my life.”

Speaking Tuesday on a teleconference set up by U.S. Figure Skating ahead of next week’s world championships in France, Zhou described the depression he has felt after the positive test kept him from skating in the men’s competition — and even from walking in the Closing Ceremonies.

“I’m having a hard time keeping myself together right now talking about it,” the 21-year-old said. “I’m still currently in the middle of things. I’m definitely not out of it yet, so talking about it — take it for what it is. I don’t have the third-person perspective of somebody who has already gone through it.”

Before the end of the Games, Zhou talked about the shock of getting a positive test despite trying to stay away from others at the Athletes’ Village — and he was excited that he was permitted to skate in the traditional gala exhibition on the Olympics’ final day. But later that day, on the way to the Closing Ceremonies, he was stopped while walking through a checkpoint with the rest of the U.S. Olympic team. His badge, officials told him, had triggered a warning — presumably related to his positive test earlier in the month.

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“So I just watched the rest of Team USA walk off without me,” he said. “It was really sad.”

He said two U.S. Olympic officials stayed with him for what “felt like an hour” to plead his case, but Beijing organizers wouldn’t allow him to go to the stadium. “There was nothing they could do, and we trudged back in defeat, I guess,” he said.

What seemed to bother Zhou most was the lack of transparency by Olympic organizers from the moment he learned about his positive test. That came during the last day of the team competition, where he helped the U.S. squad win a silver medal, trailing only the Russian Olympic Committee. He was told he could do “essential activities” after being whisked away to a hotel 30 minutes from the Athletes’ Village. But he was never told what those essential activities were. Nor, he said, was he given clear guidelines on when he would be cleared.

His frustration — over the lack of guidelines, over being unable to skate in the individual competition, over being kept from the Closing Ceremonies and over the fact the Americans still have not gotten their team event medals as the International Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Agency investigate a positive doping test by the ROC’s Kamila Valieva — has left him discouraged.

“I didn’t feel like myself,” he said of the days after he returned to Colorado Springs, where he trains. “Some days I wake up and still don’t feel like myself. Some days I wake up and I have a hard time going through mistakes. Sometimes I think to myself: ‘You know what? I should maybe just try to forget about everything, get back on the ice, go for it. Take the shot — who knows? Maybe it will go well.’ Then I step on the ice and I’m instantly reminded of everything that happened. So it’s not easy at all.”

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He said a team event medal ceremony would help bring closure and suggested officials tie it to a stop at this spring’s Stars on Ice tour, which will feature many of the Olympians. And he said he was glad to be going to the world championships — even though doing so “might not be in the best interests of my health.”

“In a circumstance where, I don’t know, 90 to 95 percent of people would have already given up and said it’s probably easier and better for me to just not go, it would make me really proud to go,” he said. “And even if I don’t do well, at least I had the courage to train every day leading up to worlds, get on that plane, go there ... and give it a shot.”