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U.S. figure skater Vincent Zhou out of Olympics after positive Covid test

The Californian's late departure leaves Team USA with just two men for individual competition.
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U.S. Olympic figure skater and medal contender Vincent Zhou tested positive for Covid-19, officials said Monday, and won't be able compete in the men's individual competition at the Beijing Winter Games.

A visibly shaken Zhou took to Instagram on Monday to reveal the disappointing news.

"It seems pretty unreal that of all the people it would happen to, (it'd be) myself," said Zhou, who appeared to be in a hotel room as he spoke directly into a camera.

"That's not just because I'm still processing this turn of events but also because I have been doing everything in my power to stay free of Covid since the start of the pandemic. I've taken all the precautions I can. I've isolated myself so much that the loneliness I've felt the last month or two has been crushing at times."

Zhou fought back tears throughout his 5-minute video address and called himself an "emotional wreck."

Earlier Monday, Team USA captured silver in the team competition.

"I’ve already lost count of the number of times I’ve cried today," he said. "But I’m happy to say that at least one of those times was happy tears. That was when I found out that I became an Olympic silver medalist."

The positive result came during routine screening for competitors, the U.S. Figure Skating association said in a statement early Monday. Officials had held out hope that could have been a false positive.

Zhou’s unexpected departure will now leave Team USA with just two men competing, Nathan Chen and Jason Brown.

Team USA had named Ilia Malinin, a 17-year-old from Fairfax, Virginia, as its first alternate.

But under the competition's Late Athlete Replacement guidelines, Zhou bowed out too late in the process to name a substitute, U.S. Figure Skating spokesperson Michael Terry told NBC News.

Malinin finished second at last month’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville. However, U.S. Figure Skating went with the experience of Zhou, Chen and Brown for the starting three spots in Beijing.

"By rule, Vincent could not be replaced once he skated in the team event," Terry said.

Image: Vincent Zhou
Vincent Zhou of Team United States skates during the Men Single Skating Free Skating Team Event on day two of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium on Feb. 6, 2022 in Beijing, China.Harry How / Getty Images file

The men’s short program starts Tuesday morning in Beijing (8:15 p.m. ET Monday).

Zhou competed over the weekend in the men’s free skate event, placing third and realizing a longtime goal of skating in the Olympics to the music of the 2000 Ang Lee film, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in China, his parents’ home country.

Zhou, 21, finished sixth at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where he made history as the first skater to land a quadruple lutz in the short program.

Friends and family of Zhou, who considers Palo Alto, California, as his hometown, gathered in San Diego, where they held a watch party for his free skate late Saturday.

Chen is the favorite to win gold and has won nearly every competition he's entered this season. The only time he fell short of first place was at Skate America in Las Vegas in October, when Zhou took top honors.

The U.S.-born Zhou had been looking forward to competing in Beijing, which he has called his "second hometown" and where his grandparents and other family still reside.

"The enormity of the situation, the pain of it all, it’s pretty insane," the American skater said Monday.

"While it was always my dream to medal on an Olympic stage which I did accomplish before this happened, the overarching dream was just to skate. If I didn’t love this, I wouldn’t still be doing it. I know I love this. That passion goes a long way."

Zhou thanked his teammates and said he expects to be back on the ice for the World Championships in Montpellier, France, next month.

The Brown University student did not mention the 2026 Winter Games in Italy.

"This is not the end. This is a setup for a bigger comeback. Vincent Zhou, signing out," he said, saluting the camera.