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Johnny Weir Gives His Take on Nationals, Worlds and the Off-Season

Leave it to Johnny Weir to put a positive spin on the controversy surrounding the 2008 U.S. Championships. Weir walked away with the silver medal from the competition after a finish that saw he and rival Evan Lysacek score identical overall marks. Each skater compiled a total of 244.77 points for the competition, but Lysacek claimed the title by winning the free skate — the tie breaker — by 1.35 points.

Within days of the competition ending, allegations of a calculating error in compiling the final scores for both he and Lysacek ranged in the media and in online forums. U.S. Figure Skating has stood behind the rule interpretation as well as the computer software program used at the competition. For his part, Weir refused to get caught up in the talk about a faulty computer scoring system being the cause of his second-place finish.

“I may not love the new scoring system, and I may not love the judging in particular, but I do compete under the same rules as everyone else. And I still abide by the rules, and abide by the fact that once a result is posted, that’s the result,” Weir said during a U.S. Figure Skating conference call in early March.

“I still do not know if I deserved to be national champion because I still have not seen Evan’s performance,” he added. “But I’m the U.S. national silver medalist, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I skated two performances I am proud of. I am definitely happy and I will not claim to be smarter than the computer. I trust what the computer said.”

In fact, Weir believes he redeemed himself in St. Paul after a dismal 2006-07 season. “I came back and delivered two strong performances, the strongest in my history at the U.S. nationals. It was after such a terrible season the year before (he finished third at nationals after winning the title from 2004-06), so it was a personal victory,” Weir explained.

He wasn’t about to let the second-place finish diminish his feeling of accomplishment. “Having achieved everything I wanted to do [at nationals], except be at the top of the podium, which I can’t control anyway, I could not possibly let that beat me,” he said. “I thought I did a fantastic job.”

In the off-season Weir left long-time Coach Priscilla Hill and began training with Galina Zmievskaya. The move appears to have paid off.

Weir started out this season by winning two gold medals on the ISU Grand Prix Series, at Cup of Russia and Cup of China before placing fourth at the Grand Prix Final. “I have had a very strong season so far and I am hoping to finish it on a high note and show everyone what one year of hard work can do for you,” he said.

Weir is excited about the upcoming World Championships, slated for March 17-23 in Sweden, and the depth of the men’s field. “I think what makes the men’s event so exciting is that there are so many strong skaters and it is unpredictable as to what the results are going be,” the American skater said. “I can see myself, of course, as the World champion because what's the point of going to a competition if you don't think you can win it?

“This year’s event is especially [exciting] because you have so many strong skaters like (Sergei) Voronov, (Tomas) Verner, (Stephane) Lambiel, (Brian) Joubert and (Daisuke) Takahashi. They have all had their highs and lows [this season] expect Takahashi really, so going into it I am eying Takahashi as the favorite.”

Weir plans to do the quad in his free skate. “It will just be in the long program because my coach thinks skating a clean program is paramount to having a good result in the overall competition,” Weir said. “There is good evidence, especially coming from the Four Continents that you may not need a quadruple jump to win the short program as Evan (Lysacek, who has since withdrawn from Worlds due to injury) was defeated by Daisuke Takahashi who just did a triple-triple combination.

“My goal is to skate a clean short program with maximum levels on all the elements and of course skate in my usual manner and get high component scores and set myself up for a good long program where I will hopefully land the quad and everything will be merry. Going into the World Championships it is very exciting for me to be part of such a strong group of athletes and performers as the men’s event has.”

Weir said he wants to be at a competition where everyone is skating their best. “You want everyone to try to one-up the skater previous to them,” he said. “Not only is it a very interesting competition for the skaters but for spectators, fans and judges. I can almost feel the energy in that building, especially now … We are closing the World Championships which is a big tribute to how strong the men’s field is.”

After the season, Weir said his first event will be a fund-raiser for Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH), the “Skating with the Stars, Under the Stars” gala at Wollman Rink in New York City's Central Park. FSH provides educational, cultural and athletic opportunities for girls in the Harlem community through figure skating.

“This will be my third year [doing the event] and I am excited about that. If I can put my skates on to help the underprivileged or spread the word about figure skating, it is definitely worth my time,” Weir said. “Then I am signed to Champions on Ice in Japan in June, July and August. I am also in talks with Ilia Averbuch and Evgeni Plushenko about doing some of their tour [dates] in Russia and Eastern Europe. We just haven’t nailed down the dates and all the specifics but I will definitely be abroad. I wasn’t invited to do Stars on Ice.”

Before traveling anywhere else, Weir was jetting to Moscow to prepare for the World Championships. “I go from Russia to Sweden on the 18th I think,” he said. “It is going to be very exciting to be away from my home … and of course I love Russia so much so it is very inspirational. I also think it is a good thing to do to get acclimated to the European time zone.”