Posted with permission from AFP
American figure skater Vincent Zhou makes his top-level debut just nine days after his 17th birthday at the Cup of China on November 3 and compete again two weeks later at a stop in Grenoble, France GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / EZRA SHAW

World junior figure skating champion Vincent Zhou makes his senior Grand Prix debut in five weeks in Beijing, where he starts making his case for a Winter Olympic debut at Pyeongchang.

The Chinese-American makes his top-level debut just nine days after his 17th birthday at the Cup of China on November 3 and compete again two weeks later at a stop in Grenoble, France.

Zhou already has a fan club waiting to applaud him in China, with his mother, Fay Ge, helping stir excitement from her son's online followers.

"They are organizing a cheering section for me. My mom is involved in some fan groups for me," Zhou said Tuesday. "My mom told me that a lot of people from China will be cheering for me.

"And my grandparents will be there. There's going to be a lot of extra pressure for me to deal with."

Zhou isn't shy about admitting he is nervous every time he takes the ice, but he says he's ready for the mental challenge.

"It takes a lot of mental strength to be able to manage those things," Zhou said.

"Despite my age, I think I'm well prepared. My team has given me great mental strength."

Zhou, runnerup to Chinese-American pal Nathan Chen in last year's US championships, won the world junior crown in March at Taiwan, the best free skate scores of his career lifting him from fifth after the short program.

And he could wind up back in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, although he says: "I can't imagine what that's going to be like."

"If I stay healthy and keep progressing, I hope I'll be one of the top skaters going into those Olympics," Zhou said.

"But I haven't thought too much about that. For now, I'm concentrating on 2018. I'm living my dream now."

Making a quick transition to the elite competition level is crucial to that dream.

"I know I have a ton of stuff to learn, a ton of experiences to have," Zhou said.

"China and France are going to be a great learning experience. I feel like I can win these things, but I know it's going to take a lot of hard work and I'm looking forward to these experiences."

The US Olympic trials are in January, but a panel selects qualifiers after the meet.

"All I can do is skate my best and hope I can find my way onto the team," Zhou said.

Zhou landed his first quad salchow at age 14 and three others at 15.

"It has (taken a toll on my body) but at this level, it's important to mitigate those things," he said.

Zhou says landing a quad in the last third of his program is the toughest feat.

"Imagine trying to do a quad near the end of an 800-meter sprint," he said. "That's what it's like."

- Worthy end needs tough trek -

The son of computer software engineers who immigrated to California in the 1990s has an older sister who went to MIT university. Zhou finished high school this year in an online program and is pondering business school, but wants to stay near his Colorado training base.

"I was the youngest one in my class and learning on my own," he said. "Learning by myself was very difficult and cost me a lot of sleep. I'm glad I made it through.

"The destination isn't worth it if the journey isn't difficult."

Pyeongchang is his destination, but blocking his path is Chen, who Zhou said could unleash seven quads if he wants, a fact Zhou doesn't see as intimidating.

"Thinking about the number of quads someone else can do isn't going to change the number of quads I can do," Zhou said.