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Johnny Weir Ready to Set the Ice Alight

Johnny Weir is on a mission. In a teleconference with U.S. media Wednesday afternoon Weir made it clear he is more focused and determined to rise to the top of World than ever before.

Weir will kick off his Grand Prix of Figure Skating season with his debut appearance at Skate America in Everett, Wash. next week. The 2008 World bronze medalist said he is looking forward to the challenge.

“This is the first international event that I have ever contested in America,” he said. “I have never had to compete in an international field in my nation before. I think it is a good lead up to nationals.”

When asked why he had not competed at Skate America before, Weir said he preferred to have a longer preparation period prior to his Grand Prix events. “This year U.S. Figure Skating asked me if I would do this event and I said yes,” he said.

“My goal is to be on top of the podium at nationals and Worlds and Skate America is a stepping-stone to get to my goals later in the season.”

Weir addressed the significant changes that his life has undergone the last year. “It was definitely a huge decision for me to leave Priscilla (Hill) and go to work with Galina Zmievskaya but I can only see positive results from it,” Weir said.

“Last year my team (which includes Nina and Viktor Petrenko) helped me to believe in myself and the training I had done prior to my events,” Weir acknowledged. “They really got me prepared. Last season was one of the best I have ever had – I medaled at every event I competed in except the Grand Prix Final.” Weir placed fourth at that event in Torino.

Training with Zmievskaya and the Petrenkos has its challenges Weir admitted.

“I work every day in Russian which is a foreign language for me,” he said. “For Soviet and Russian sportsmen there was always a sense of determination and need that people felt through sport, so if you were not the best you would not achieve very much in life,” Weir said. “The Russian coaches, especially of those of Galina’s era, all teach in a very Soviet way and if you are not doing the maximum to achieve a result you may as well stop training.

“Of course, sometimes it is a little stressful training in the Russian system because they have a very different way of teaching and communicating than it was with my American coach. But, I am thriving under the system and I hope to continue to grow and keep getting better and better.

“In America people have the chance to be lazy because we have never had to sacrifice one aspect of our lives for another – we never need to choose,” Weir added. “But in the Russian system you have to choose. When you have the results you can do what you want. Through training with my team I feel every day can make or break you. There is no opportunity to fall back and no opportunity to relax, especially during the season.”

Weir said his team looks after his day-to-day needs so he can focus on the job that needs to be done. “I am completely taken care of from the time I wake up,” Weir said. “Nina makes me pomegranate juice so I have that energy to start my day; my skates are taken to be sharpened for me. I don’t have to think about anything except my next practice or my next competition.”

Weir said he has noticed changes in his body through his new training regime. “This year I saw some kind of shocking change when I could not get my jeans on because working on the crazy spins and jumps has made my legs bigger,” he said. “But I can see a huge creative difference ... and that is something I definitely needed to work on. It’s definitely difficult to teach an old dog new tricks.”

The 2008 U.S. silver medalist said he is planning on adding a quad to his free program this season, even though he is not a fan of the jump. “I don’t believe the quad is the be all and end all of figure skating and I am a firm disbeliever in that theory,” Weir said, “and I think it can take away from a beautiful program when people are trying and failing. I admire people who can do it as if it is no problem – but if I had my way I would not do it.”

Weir said he believes it is important to establish himself as one of the top skaters in the world this season. “For me it is all about skating clean and being the best I can be in every went without killing myself. Next season is the season to kill yourself,” he said.

Admitting that he has been introverted at competitions in the past, Weir said he now approaches competitions with a new confidence. “I am prepared to be there. I know anything is possible when I get there and having such a strong team and knowing there is always someone I can go to if there is an issue, has helped me when I go to events.”

When asked about the surprise retirement announcement of Jeffrey Buttle, Weir was philosophical. “I thought a lot about it but I think he went out on a high note. I was shocked because we came up through the junior ranks together,” Weir said.

Though he loves his new programs, Weir said he is not in love with the new judging system. “I am happy with my short program (“On the Wings of Time”) but there is precious little time to create a mood and do something beautiful ... running from element to element and throw in some flair,” he said. “But I am excited to reveal it at Skate America.

“I don’t believe this (new judging) system promotes anything except the technical elements. There is very little time to even breathe in a program,” he said. “There is really no chance to set a mood or to show something interesting. I think Jeff did a very good job with his program (last season) of balancing the artistic with the technical and Stéphane Lambiel is also very good at it.”

Weir described his new long program to “Notre Dame de Paris” as very interesting. “It is almost like I am a story teller with hints of the hunchback and Esmeralda,” he said.

When asked about the design of his costumes for the new season, Weir responded enthusiastically. “I got my new short program costume yesterday. This year I did the designs completely by myself and it was a really great experience,” he said. “I brought sketches to Galina and asked if they could be made.

“For the short I wanted it to be a fantasy. I wanted color and something strong, something a fantasy conductor would wear because it is a violin piece,” he added. “It has a little off the shoulder action, velvet and rhinestones – but that is me.”

For the free program, Weir said he drew a lot of inspiration from Notre Dame including the gargoyles and color scheme of the church. “You know, the old stone, old windows - I wanted something that was a little Esmeralda, a little Quasimodo,” he said. “It is starting to look Johnny Weirish.”