Vancouver Olympics

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Elaine Thompson/AP

Vancouver Olympians: Figure Skater Johnny Weir

February 08, 2010
by Sarah Amandolare
American figure skater Johnny Weir is known as much for his personality as his athletic prowess and artistry. His comeback is generating significant interest leading into Vancouver. 

No Guarantees for Weir

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Weir is a three-time U.S. champion, but 2009 has not been his year. According to Frank Fitzpatrick of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Weir took fifth place at last year’s national championships and did not qualify for the world championships, despite taking the bronze there in 2008.

Nonetheless, Weir has secured a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, thanks to his “renewed resolve” and love of competition. Fitzpatrick explains how Weir clawed his way back onto the skating scene after a nearly yearlong absence in which self-doubt threatened to end his career. Weir, 25, says he is now in the best shape of his life, but he faces significant competition from countryman and “arch-rival” Evan Lysacek.

In fact, the showdown between Weir, Lysacek and the rest of the men’s field is shaping up to be more popular among American viewers than the women’s figure skating competition, according to Amy Shipley of The Washington Post. Lysacek’s coach, Frank Carroll, notes that neither competitor will “be sitting back, saying ‘I’m the favorite,’” which should make for an exciting Olympic showdown. Jeremy Abbott, a 23-year-old American skater, should also pose a threat in Vancouver. 

Will Weir’s Style Hold Him Back?

He is known, loved and hated for his confident, colorful style and personality. Weir's costumes, as depicted in this Refinery 29 slideshow, are typically unorthodox, and he doesn’t shy away from posing for the cameras.

PETA and other animal rights organizations have lambasted Weir for his fur-trimmed costumes. According to Out of Bounds, Weir has decided to go fur-free in Vancouver because the threats had become a serious distraction. Weir said in a statement that his costume designer Stephanie Handler “was repeatedly sent messages of hate and disgust,” and he doesn’t “want something as silly as my costume disrupting my second Olympic experience and my chance at a medal, a dream I have had since I was a kid."

That unique brashness helped Weir get his own reality show on the Sundance Channel. Episodes are posted online. Some in the skating world wonder whether “the glitz has overwhelmed this skating,” perhaps threatening his chances of winning an Olympic medal, The New York Times reports.

Phillip Hersh, a Chicago Tribune Olympics writer, contends that not too long ago, “there was a balance in the contrast between the compelling, understated elegance of Weir’s skating and the too-too costumes he prefers,” the Times reported. But now, that balance is less intact, Hersh noted.

Weir’s Route to the Games

Weir was a late bloomer for a figure skater; he didn’t start until he was 12 years old, and played several other sports, including horseback riding and soccer, before deciding to focus solely on skating. According to Weir’s profile on his official Web site, his first on-ice experience was during a “harsh winter when the corn field behind his house froze over.” Later, Weir began taking lessons at the University of Delaware, and he quickly progressed to the Junior Olympics as a freestyle and pairs skater before switching to singles.

Weir felt disappointed with his 2007 season, which included a bronze medal in the U.S. Championships and an eighth place World Championships finish. He decided change was in order, and “[h]oping to advance his results heading toward the 2010 Olympics, he left longtime coach Priscilla Hill.” To train with his new coach, Galina Zmievskaya, Weir relocated from Delaware to Wayne, N.J.
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