Reports today indicating a relocation and coaching change by Stéphane Lambiel, a two-time World champion (2005-06), to the New Jersey Ice Vault training rink of reigning World bronze medalist Johnny Weir came as an early morning surprise to many in the skating world – including Weir. “The first I heard about it was when I woke up to an incoming rush of text messages from friends in Europe and Russia. Everyone was looking for confirmation, but I had nothing to tell them,” Weir said.
Weir crescendoed to a first World medal last season under the firm training discipline of noted Ukrainian coach Galina Zmievskaya, who was assisted by her former student, 1992 Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko. At that time, Weir, now 23, left his longtime coach, family and home to train under Zmievskaya, in a bid to regain his national title on the road to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic podium. With a deal struck for Lambiel to train with Petrenko as his primary coach, three-time national champion Weir will have to share ice time – and the coaching duo’s attention – with the 23-year old Olympic silver medalist Lambiel.
According to Weir, Petrenko only arrived back on New Jersey ice last Monday, after a trip home to the Ukraine, where he was elected vice president of the Ukrainian Figure Skating Federation. During Petrenko’s trip abroad, Lambiel spent a few days in New Jersey working with Zmievskaya. “Russians work as a team, so it’s not unusual that Stéphane was skating with Galina (Zmievskaya),” Weir said. “I imagine that Stéphane will now probably also work with the same Pilates instructor I have, and perhaps the same masseuse.”
Asked how he viewed the prospect of sharing a coaching team that until now had been exclusively devoted to his training, Weir explained, “Stéphane and I go way back. At my very first international event, in 1998, we competed against each other in Slovenia. We’ve known each other a long time and a strange ‘rivalry yet friendship’ has developed between us.”
Recently Weir performed in Korea. When he returned home last week, he said he was a bit surprised to find another top level skater trying out with his coaches. “If you take the top 10 men's skaters in the world, I can’t imagine one I’d get along better with than Stéphane,” said Weir. “He’s a good guy, a great skater, and I think he can do great things for the Ice Vault rink and for my coaching team.”
Lambiel and Petrenko have skated together in ice shows over the years, including the Champions on Ice tour. Weir noted that Petrenko, and his wife and choreographer Nina Petrenko, often commented on their admiration for the Swiss skaters style and on-ice artistry.
“Galina and Viktor got back their top level coach status with the transformation they did on me last season. It’s good to see that recognized,” said Weir. “Last season, under Galina and Viktor, I beat Stéphane more than I lost to him.
Weir admits things could become too cozy for comfort once the competitive season gets underway. “I haven’t personally decided if it will be beneficial for me to train with another elite skater," he said. "We both want to be the next Olympic champion, and to do that, it will be a fight for all of the titles until Vancouver. To have a rival training next to me, on the ice doing run-throughs, observing every move I make is something I haven’t experienced and until I do, I cannot know whether I’ll like it or I won’t. But, I hope this arrangement can push us both to work hard and conquer the world.”