The Weir-dness has been around for as long as Johnny Weir can remember. He was already wearing a fashionable necklace in first grade, pretending to be some foreign figure skating champion while his Quarryville, Pa., classmates were out there in the playground emulating Philadelphia Eagles or Phillies or Broad Street Bullies.
He says he had the best of bad role models, his mother Patti. She would smoke in the girls’ bathroom, ride the back of boys’ motorcycles, stir up trouble whenever possible. And all she expected from her middle child, Johnny, was simply for him to follow his muse.
“We’re kind of country bumpkins,” Weir says. “But my mom was an inspiration.”
By seventh grade, Weir was quite certain he would be in the Olympics. And there he was recently in St. Louis, at his flamboyant best, capturing his third straight U.S. national championship, explaining the difference between a scarf and a boa, heading for Torino with that big, dangerous mouth of his.
Refreshing, silly, outrageous, offensive. You name it, Weir pleads guilty.
“No one is Jesus,” Weir says, warming up again. “I’m not for everyone. I’m me. I don’t front. I don’t put on a face. I don’t make statements just to make them. I mean every word I say, regardless if it’s offensive or mean-spirited. I’m not going to sugar coat it.”
Weir’s mouth has double the sass of Bode Miller, maybe triple. The trouble is that Weir doesn’t own the international medals to make those bold, crazy statements matter as much to the major media outlets. If only he had Evgeni Plushenko’s quad, or those quad-triple-triple combinations, then Weir would be booked on “Sixty Minutes” every night.
Instead, he is merely the best figure skater America has had since Timothy Goebel misplaced his mojo after the 2002 Olympics. Michael Weiss, a two-time Olympian and the epitomy of inconsistency, has also stumbled his way off the Turin team. That leaves Weir and Evan Lysacek, a steady but unspectacular rival, as America’s soft, 1-2 punch in men’s figure skating.
“I’ve wasted four years of my life,” Goebel said, after finishing a sad seventh in St. Louis. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”
In truth, American men have been wandering lost in this event for the past 18 years, since Brian Boitano won the Olympic title in 1988. At the past four Winter Games, U.S. men have captured only a bronze and a silver, while the women have won three golds, two silvers and two bronzes.
The three men heading to the Olympics for this event, including Matt Savoie, represent a complete turnover in mediocrity from the last Olympics. At least Weir has uncommon grace, wonderful lines. What he doesn’t have, yet, are those high-difficulty jumps that are virtually required elements – even by the slack standards of the new scoring system, which doesn’t reward quads as much as many outsiders believe.
At best, Weir may marginally contend for a bronze in Torino, and keep things interesting. Give the man a stage, he will play to sellouts.
At those nationals in St. Louis, Weir said some things that he probably shouldn’t have said. He described the short program of a rival as “vodka shots and snorting coke.” He was lectured by Olympic officials about that, then came back to say, sarcastically, he would never insult any sponsor who might give money to U.S. Figure Skating.
When he captured the title, Weir described the family celebrations this way: “My mom is getting drunk already, and my dad is sitting at home with my dog watching on TV.”
Weir promised to attempt a quad in Torino, to strive for a medal, even if it isn’t golden. “I’m not gunning for Plushenko,” Weir said. He will make waves, though, from the frozen water.
“I’m not usually a good team member, and I don’t usually support my team,” he said.
His coach, Priscilla Hill, once missed going to the Olympics as a skater because of an injury. Now, she gets to go, and Weir has been very gracious about that. He thanked her, said he’d come a long way with her. She’d helped his skating. He’d helped her wardrobe.
“When we met, she was wearing a beaver fur coat and a Dalmatians-from-Disney hat,” he said. “Now look at her.”
Look at her. Mostly, listen to him. Weir is a 21-year-old powder keg, heading for the Olympics.
Maybe there isn’t much reason to watch these American men skate, but Weir is now cause to listen. By the old scoring standards, his tongue gets a 6.0 for artistic interpretation.