Weir is as colorful as his costumes

Winter Olympics

February 14, 2006|By RICK MAESE

TURIN, ITALY — TURIN, Italy-- --Michelle Kwan boarded an airplane yesterday morning and returned to Los Angeles. But fret not, you skate heads - the United States' premier ice princess is still here, still ready to compete, still going for gold.

Johnny Weir, with his feathers, fishnets and a glove named Camille, competes tonight in the men's short program. Yeah, for the record, I went there.

Actually, I didn't. Weir, himself, did.

"I am very princessy," he said a few days ago, talking about his high-maintenance travel preferences.

And in four quick words, you've learned so much about Weir - nothing as important, though, as this: He doesn't really care what you think.

Weir, 21, has won three consecutive U.S. titles and has a legitimate shot at a medal at this year's Winter Games. But that's not what makes him intriguing to most of us. Weir is sincere and genuine in a sport that uses makeup and glitter to cover up its blemishes.

Figure skating is like that neighbor down the street who drives the Beemer and waves hello whenever you see him. And then the second he disappears behind the door, you know he's facing a household of problems.

"There are so many skeletons in the closet in figure skating," Weir says. "And there's a lot of stuff that goes down that people don't know about."

The sport is often a beauty contest with an athletic component, and Weir has gone on record saying he won't play that game. If he wanted to, he could parlay his skating skills into lucrative endorsement dollars. But it would mean stifling his voice. Thankfully, he's one of the few remaining athletes who don't want to compromise character for Coca-Cola cash.

Image means so much in skating. How many times did we see Michael Weiss, three-time national champion, sitting next to his wife? How many times did he make sure that he mentioned her name in news conferences?

At the 2005 U.S. championships, a friend of Weiss' tossed a football to him on the ice. The skater caught it in midair and spun the ball on the ice. "I'm a big football fan," he explained later.

It's a sport where the most important product is image, created for National Enquirer reporters by public-relations fact spinners.

"Oftentimes, figure skating isn't taken seriously," Weir says. "Judging scandals, little girls in rhinestones, little boys in rhinestones - it's not this gridiron sport."

No. That, it's not. And Weir makes no secret that he's not a gridiron athlete. His father is "All-American ... one of those jock-type guys." His brother is nicknamed Boz, after former football player Brian Bosworth.

And then there's Weir, with no shame, no filter and no dull moments.

"Sorry to say `princessy,'" he said, talking again about the accommodations in Turin, "but that's what we do.

"I hate carrying my own luggage and I hate trekking up stairs. I like a nice bed to be laid out for me. ... I'm roughing it. It'd be the same as me going out into the woods, I think. Camping."

Don't you like this guy? Well, then you must not have a seat on the U.S. Figure Skating standards committee. They love Weir on the ice, but when a microphone is in front of him, everyone holds their breath. Seriously, you could tap one of these starched suits with a pencil and it would fall to the ground during a Weir news conference.

Weir is all adjectives and metaphors. At the U.S. championships last month, he tried describing crowd reaction to his performance: "They kind of sat back, had their cognac and cigarettes and relaxed and watched. [Opponent Ryan Bradley's] was more a vodka-shot, let's-snort-coke kind of thing."

For comparison, here's what Matt Savoie, another American Olympian, said at the same championships: "I'm really excited to have skated well." Somebody stop the presses!

Weir's comments earned him a firm slap on the hand from skating officials. Cognac and cocaine, apparently, aren't major sponsors.

"I think people are definitely very wary of what's going to come out of my mouth," he said last week, "and they're very worried about the kind of image I'm portraying for figure skating.

"That's cool," he added. "People should stay scared."

If anyone in the skating world really is shaking in his skates, I suspect his tights are a couple sizes too small.

Weir should be embraced. In an Olympic culture that's become professionalized and littered with more sponsor logos than a racecar, we should appreciate the last few strands of sincerity.

In figure skating, the sparkles are usually meant to distract you. Weir lives his life from a vat of glitter, but that's not the reason he shines brighter than the rest.

You'll see tonight.

Here's Johnny. ... Are you ready?

It really doesn't matter. Because he's coming anyway.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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