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The state of Johnny Weir: love, hate, jealousy, regrets, corsets and dirty dancing

September 12, 2009 | 12:49 pm

Johnny 

Johnny Weir's public persona has always been so delightfully extroverted and so frequently over the top that it sometimes is easy to forget he too can be riddled with angst over the highs and lows of his skating career.

The three-time U.S. champion and 2008 world bronze medalist has struggled over the last three seasons, bottoming out with a fifth place at the 2009 U.S. Championships.  That meant he did not make the U.S. world team for the first time since 2003.  It hurt even more when his longtime rival, Evan Lysacek, became the first U.S. man to win a world title since 1996.

Weir was so distraught over that experience that, as his 25th birthday approached this July, he was ready to quit skating until his mother, Patti, jarred her son from the funk.

Weir heeded his mother's advice, but he still wanted a way to express how he had felt about the blue period, even as his life and career were being celebrated in a documentary, "Pop Star on Ice,'' that has drawn positive reviews. 

So he called his long program for the 2010 Olympic season "Fallen Angel.''

And -- with his usual candor, wit and insight -- Weir filled in reporters at this week's U.S. Olympic media summit on the state of mind that led to such a title and how he has found renewed confidence to approach the upcoming season.

The best way to narrate those thoughts is in his own words.

So....Here's Johnny: 

How does your long program, "Fallen Angel,'' reflect the state of your career?

After the [2009] national championships, it was a real struggle for me to want to skate. I quit for a month and a half.  I didn't want to be a part of this world any more.

Then my mom called me one day.  I was really upset, crying.  I had woken up with champagne that morning.  I was like, "Mom, I can't handle this any more. I don't want it. I don't love it.'' 

And she said, "You're going to regret this. You're going to be my age one day, and you're going to regret every second of sitting here feeling sorry for yourself.  You've got one more legitimate chance to make an Olympic medal a reality.  You have to use it.''

And I said, "I haven't worked this hard for this long to let myself crumble and kind of disappear in the skating world.''  I dug deep, and I found the strength to go back in the rink, to start pushing myself every day.  Slowly and surely, I started to get better.  Now I think I'm in the best shape of my life.  I'm happy -- with my programs, the situation with my coaches, with my life, and I'm happy I didn't let this chance pass me by.

What did your coach [Galina Zmievskaya] say when you were going through your down time, and you didn't want to train?

She understood the depression and the sadness and the not wanting to be a part of it any more.  She has been a coach a long time and has seen it all.  She would yell at me when I didn't go into practice, but she had to yell at me.  She's my coach; it's her job.  She let me have my moments. 

Tell us about your short program.

The short program is called "I Love You/ I Hate You.''  The beginning is very melodic, and it comes on and you think, "OK, this is something he would skate to.''  Right in the middle, it drops the pit of your stomach, and it's a sexy, dirty kind of rumba.  I'm going to wear a corset and a big tassel.  It's a completely different side of me. [His choreographer, David Wilson] said, "I want people to see that you are clever and you're funny and you're not just this kind of serious ballerina when you skate.  I want them to see your cheeky side.''

Why do you love things Russian?

I'm very inspired by the artfulness and soulfulness of the Russian people.  I have Russian coaches [Zmievskaya and Viktor Petrenko], and we train in Moscow periodically, because we have good ice time there and good facilities and doctors.  We have everything great in Russia, so why not use everything we can?  It's easier for me to go to Russia and train with top coaches and choreographers there than go to Colorado Springs and train with 14 of my competitors. 

Give us a tour of your necklace.

I have this Korean ruby good luck charm from my Korean fans.  I've got two rubles for success.  This ring, given to me by [Georgian Olympic skater Elena Gedevanishvili].  It has Russian Orthodox protection [inscribed] on it.  This Hamsa, the Jewish hand of protection.  A Jewish godol that Galina gave me.  An Orthodox cross from my mother (we're Catholic).  And the Star of David.  I feel I need to be protected on all fronts.

You talked about accepting the idea this is your last legitimate Olympic chance.  With the 2014 Olympics in Russia, I would think you would want to be there.

I would like to go as the reigning Olympic champion that is talking for a television station in three different languages [note: he also speaks French and Russian.] If I want to go for another [competitive] try in Sochi, then I will, but it will be just for the sheer thrill of competing at an Olympic Games in Russia.  This is my last chance at a medal.

You have been down, but Russian men's skating has been hurting much worse over the past three years. Because you are such a fan of Russia, has there ever been any talk of you joining their program?

Just as a joke with different people in the Russian Federation and between them and my coach.  I'm American; my allegiance lies with America.  I have always thought that being a good American is appreciating the world, not just your own country. 

Did you watch [2009] worlds [in Los Angeles]?

I didn't watch the men.  I was out there to do some commentary for NBC about the ladies.  As I was landing, I heard how the men were doing ... and it looked like we were going to have just two spots for the Olympics.  I said, "Evan has to win, or we will have two spots, and it will be like a cat fight next year.''  Then he won. Of course, I'm jealous of that, but I'm so happy the country has the spots we deserve. We have such a strong group of men.

[At worlds], everyone was looking at me like, "Why are you here?''  It's kind of degrading for an athlete that should be at that event to have people asking why you are there.  That made me really sad.

The figure skating focus in this country is on the men for the first time in memory.  In an Olympic year, is that an incredible opportunity?

It is a great time for U.S. men's figure skating.  The thing I am hoping to see come out of the success of the American men in the past several years is that we get the respect we deserve, the respect of a real athlete, [so] we aren't thought of as just the boys that are doing the girls' sport.  I want people to see how difficult what we do is, of how hard I work.  I don't have a team around me, I don't have pads all over my body. 

Do you have a reality show coming up?

Yes. Sundance Channel in January.  It follows up "Pop Star on Ice.''  It [the reality show] will document the end of last season into this season.  Tentatively it's called, "Johnny Be Good.''  

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Johnny Weir in a characteristically extroverted pose at this week's U.S. Olympic media summit.

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