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Johnny Weir; The ‘Pop Star on Ice’ Meets the Press

Johnny Weir attended the 2010 Olympic Team Media Summit in Chicago last week. He spoke openly to the press about the ups-and-downs of his life the past eight months.

“I actually arrived in Chicago at 1 a.m. on Thursday morning because I was doing my test for U.S. Figure Skating yesterday in New York,” he said. “It went very well. I did a full run through of my long program with all of the elements. It was the first time I had been in front of judges since the national championships disaster this year. I was happy with the way it went.”

How did you spend your summer?

I spent the summer training, working really hard with my coaches Galina Zmievskaya and Viktor Petrenko on my basic conditioning and being prepared as much as possible for the Grand Prix season.

I also went to Toronto for two and a half weeks during the summer to work with Canadian choreographer David Wilson to create two new programs.

So basically the summer was spent doing what the summer is for. Work, work, work. Getting prepared and losing the weight, just making sure I was happy and every kink was worked out before my first event, which is Cup of Russia in Moscow in October. So summer has been business as usual.

Can you talk about your new programs and the concepts behind them?

The short program is a very sexy rumba. It is called ‘I Love You, I Hate You.’ It is a very interesting piece of music. The beginning is very melodic and you think ‘okay, it’s Johnny. This is something he would skate to.’ But right in the middle it drops to the pit of your stomach. Its like this dirty, sexy kind of rumba and it is very fun. I am going to wear a corset and a big tassle.

I am very excited about it. It shows a completely different side of me and that is what I gave David as his gift. He said ‘you know what, I want people to see that you are clever and that you are funny and that you are not just this serious kind of ballerina when you skate. I want them to see your cheeky side,’ and this is what came out of it.

The free program is something David and I called ‘Fallen Angel’ because we thought it was a good representation of my career up to this point. It is very intense because I felt my career has been very hilly. You know, I have not been the Michelle Kwan skater. I have not had the consistency over the years. As soon as I hit a high, everyone loves it, but as soon as I make one mistake, its like it flips on me. It has happened my whole career.

In many ways I embody the spirit of a fallen angel. I can be up high one minute and then be all the way down in hell the next second. When I was talking about this theme with David (Wilson) he was all for it. He was like ‘it’s you, I totally understand it and I totally get it.’ So I am hoping that I can show that side of me and my story.

Was ever any suggestion that you should switch allegiance and skate for Russia?

It is well documented that I am a fan of all things Russian but that concept has been just a joke between my coach and members of the Russian federation. I am American and my allegiance is to America and I have always thought that being a good American is appreciating the world not just your own country. So, of course, everyone knows I love Russia and love visiting the country and working with Russian coaches but I would never change my country at this juncture.

What is it that you like so much about Russia?

I love being in Russia. I am very inspired by the artfulness and soulfulness of the Russian people and the Russian sports machine is undisputedly great. I have Russian coaches and we train in Moscow periodically because we have good ice there, good facilities, good doctors so why not use everything that we can? It is easier for me to go to Russia and train with the top coaches there than it is to go to Colorado Springs and train with 14 of my competitors. It is a very nice thing to do to get out of my bubble, out of my comfort zone.

So far, I have only had the opportunity to visit St. Petersburg, Moscow and Perm. Of course I need to see more but my schedule does not really permit me to have a big vacation but after the Olympics…hopefully some friends and I are talking about taking a trip to Mongolia and then taking the train across Russia and then heading to Europe for a very nice holiday.

How important do you think the quad is?

We have seen the last two seasons that the World champion was the best skater, not the best quad jump person. So, for me the quad it is beautiful and it is such a difficult thing to do. It represents the progression of our sport, blah, blah, blah. But, to be a champion you have to have the whole package. If you can do a quad-toe or a quad-Salchow – great, good for you, but why can’t you spin? Why can’t you do clean edges in your footwork? All of these things come into making the champion.

I would like to be the one that skates that clean performance with the quad; no question that I would be on the podium. As far as the importance of the quad under this new judging system, it is not the same as it used to be. You don’t have to out-quad somebody, you have to out-skate somebody – you have to out-perform somebody. You have to be better than the other person in every aspect of the sport not just being able to do a very demanding jump. It is a give and take situation. You can try it and fall, you can try it and land it clean and it can still be downgraded. It just depends on who is sitting at the judging table that day.

What do you think about the number of coaching changes that took place in the off-season?

I am a big advocate of making sure you are comfortable in your training situation and if you are not then you need to make a change. It is a very important year for everybody so you need to make sure you have the best possible team that is completely about your success, that is behind you because despite the support of your country and the fans and all that stuff, your team has to treat you like the baby that they are trying to push up into the world. So if you don’t have that situation in an Olympic year, you need to find it.

Tell us about your documentary and the new reality show.

I really enjoyed the documentary. I have seen it in the theatre with a live audience several times now and it is always so exciting to see my face and my story on the screen. Something that people can relate to – that they can laugh and cry or hiss when something goes awry and stand up at the end. It is fantastic to have my movie be a success and do so well.

And the bathtub scene?

That was not dirty and sexy in the same way. That bathtub was dirty. For anyone who has not seen the movie, it starts with me in a scene with my best friend. I have a blonde wig on and I am doing an interview about me in the bathtub. His bathtub was filthy but we had bathing suits on.

I have a reality show coming up in January. It is a documentary that follows up on the documentary that is in theatres right now. It is called ‘Pop Star on Ice’ which is about me and this crazy world. The documentary will premiere on the Sundance channel in December, right around Christmas. The reality show will start in January and it will document the end of last season into this season. So the cameras will follow me to Russia and Japan for my Grand Prix events and hopefully back to Japan for the Grand Prix Final. I have had a camera on me for about four years now so it is not a distraction anymore.

The reality show has been tentatively called 'Johnny Be Good' but I like ‘Pop Star on Ice’ more so maybe we will do something pizzazy.

Can you give us a tour of your necklace (Weir was wearing a necklace full of good luck charms)?

This Korean ruby good luck charm is from my Korean fans. I have two Russian ruobles which are for good success and were given to me by a good friend. This ring was given to me by Elene Gedevanishvili, a skater from Georgia. It has a Russian orthodox protection prayer on it. This is a hamse, which is a Jewish hand of protection. I have a Matryoshka doll that Galina gave me. An orthodox cross from my mother. We are Catholic. And a Star of David. I feel like I need to be protected on all fronts. Someone always has to have my back. With religion I believe in anything good so I am not so strict with religion. I like anything that keeps love and I feel all these things protect me.

Talk about what happened before and after the 2009 U.S. Championships?

Before nationals last year I got very sick and lost 8lbs when I was in Korea for Christmas and it took me a while to get that back but once I did it just kept on coming. I learned how to bake banana bread…I got into the upper 140’s which is high for me. Now I am down to about 137 so I have three more pounds to lose.

It is very hard to diet and deprive yourself when you are not in heavy training and even though I was an alternate for Worlds I was not really preparing to go because even if they asked me I was not going to go because I did not want to. But I was definitely unhealthy, I was a normal sized person and it was hard.

After the national championships it was definitely a struggle for me. I did not want to skate anymore. I quit for a month and a half. I did not want to be a part of this world anymore. I did not want to be a figure skater anymore. Then one day my Mom called me and I was really upset and crying. I had woken up with champagne that morning and it was just a bad day. I was like ‘Mom, I can’t handle this anymore, I don’t want it, I don’t love it,’ and she said ‘you know what, you are going to regret this one day. You are going to be my age and you are going to regret every second that you are sitting there feeling sorry for yourself. You have one more legitimate chance to make an Olympic medal a reality.’

And I said ‘you know what I have not worked this hard for this long to let myself crumble and let myself disappear in the skating world. So I dug deep and I found the strength to go back into the rink every day, to start jumping again and slowly but surely I started to get better. Now I think I am in the best shape of my life. I have about three more pounds to lose according to my coaches and then I will be ready. I am happy. I am so happy with the programs, I am happy in the situation with my coaches, with my life and I am happy that I did not let this chance pass me by.

What did your coach say when you were going through your down time and did not want to train?

Galina, in her way, understood. She is a very strict Soviet woman but she understood the depression and the sadness and not wanting to be a part of it anymore. She has been a coach a long time and has seen it all. She would yell at me when I did not want to go into practice and did not go to practice but in her way she understood. She had to yell at me, she is my coach, it is her job. But she let me have my moment, she let me go. I was away about a month and a half in the spring time.

Weir laughed as a bevy of journalists all attempted to ask questions simultaneously.

Talk about what happened at the 2009 World Championships?

I went to Los Angeles do some commentary for NBC on the ladies. Once I got there everyone was looking at me like, why are you here. ‘Oh, I am talking for television.’ It was kind of degrading for an athlete that should be at that event to be asked why I was there.

As my flight was landing in LA I heard how the men were doing. Galina was watching the Russian satellite transmission of the event and she said ‘Johnny they miss you. They just keep talking about you. They want you on the TV. I said ‘Galina I want to be on the TV too.’ And then she said, ‘Johnny, the Americans are not doing very well. It looks like we are going to have two spots for Olympics,’ because at that point Brandon and Jeremy were not in a high placement.

And then we were like ‘okay, Evan has to win. Evan has to win or we will have two spots and then it will be like a cat fight next year.’ And then he won and I was like great. Now we have three spots. Evan is the World champion and of course I am jealous about that but I am so happy that the country has the spots that we deserve. We have such a strong group of men that we deserve to have three spots at the Olympic Games.