On Weir's terrible day, nothing was routine

Men's Figure skating

Turin Olympics

February 17, 2006|By RICK MAESE

TURIN, Italy

--Ever have one of those days? I mean the really, really bad ones. When you can't nap because of all that noise outside your window. And then when you try to catch a bus, someone went and changed the schedule on you, and the thing never shows up.

So you curse, scream and stamp your feet until someone relents and gives you a ride.

Of course, by now you're running late, so forget about feeling loose and comfortable. You bail on your quadruple toe loop and abandon five other jumps altogether. You don't even try the double axel!

And then, as if all that isn't enough, a major newspaper tries to out you, questioning your sexuality to hundreds of thousands on what's supposed to be the biggest day of your life.

Whew. Deep breath. Count salchows, if you have to. One ... two ... three. ... It's not working. ... Breathe!

Oh, forget it. Let your inner crank bust out, Johnny Weir. Tell us how you really feel ...

"I'm really [angry]. ... The bus was late. ... I was swearing. ... Those costumes are really hard to get on. I have to squeeze myself in like a sausage. ... I didn't feel my inner peace. I didn't feel my aura. Inside I was black."

Black - that's the perfect color. That's what the top American figure skater earned with his appalling performance last night. Poised for at least silver at these Winter Games, Weir went home with black.

Weir, 21, was firmly in second place after the short program. He finished sixth in last night's free skate and fifth overall.

He certainly had a trying day, and he deserves both sympathy and scolding. His performance before the media later in the evening was by far more spectacular than anything Weir did on the ice. When the tape recorders came out, he finally took some chances.

There are tired figure skating jokes: It's Johnny Weir - the "d" is silent. There's a "d" in there all right - and it stands for diva. Need proof? As usual, just ask Weir, affable and likable even in defeat.

One of his friends called yesterday because he found a Web site that listed the skater as a D-list celebrity. "I was like, `Oh, great, I'm Kathy Griffin,' " Weir said. Maybe, except you get the feeling the redheaded comedian might have tried a bit harder last night.

But Weir had the excuses ready to go. The bus that was supposed to take him from the Olympic Village to the rink was suddenly running on 30-minute intervals - not 10. After stressing, he caught a ride but still arrived later than he had hoped. By that point, his thoughts were flickering like a strobe light.

He landed his first jump. He changed the second - the quad - to a triple, and then nailed a triple salchow. A couple jumps and a spin later, and his program began to fall apart. Weir began to fall apart. It was the kind of performance that made you squint your eyes and pray the carnage might end quickly.

He never did fall, but after struggling with a triple lutz, he abandoned the final five jumps of his program, opting to spin around and display some footwork. We were done watching his skates by that point, instead wondering what in the world was going on in that head?

"My biorhythms were off, I guess, tonight," he explained later. "Instead of being nice and smooth, they were up and down."

Ah-ha. That explains it.

We shouldn't make light of Weir's difficulty in mentally focusing himself. He came to the boot nation and watched his psyche get stomped flat. What he did not deserve was to have his family and friends back home watch his personal life needlessly go on trial in one of the country's largest newspapers.

On the day Weir went for gold, the Chicago Tribune went for the jugular. The Tribune, which is owned by the same company that signs my paychecks, published a 1,065-word article yesterday insinuating that Weir is gay. It was the most e-mailed article on the newspaper's Web site.

Weir was never questioned for the piece, and the whole thing essentially hinged on whispers and the accusations of a former figure skater.

Weir was asked about the article after his performance last night. He said he hadn't seen it and was somewhat taken aback - as he should have been. Journalists don't usually report rumors and innuendo without at least approaching the subject of the gossip.

There was even an accompanying online poll.

"I think it's funny that people care," Weir said. "I don't have a problem with people saying anything. ... It's not a big deal. Who I sleep with doesn't affect what I'm doing on the ice or what I'm doing in a press conference."

For the record, there were nearly 5,000 responses as of 10 o'clock last night. More than 92 percent did not care.

Frankly, it's sad that this conversation even took place. Does it matter what Weir does when he takes off his skates? It was the last thing on my mind as I watched him thrash around the ice last night.

Weir can be as entertaining as he is interesting. But yesterday, that was not a gay man who plummeted from the medal platform in a 4 1/2 -minute free fall. It was a distracted one.

His talent got him here. His mouth brought the lights and cameras. And his head let it go to waste.

Weir was asked what he learned from his Olympic experience. He responded with this gem: "I learned that I definitely want to stay in a hotel."

Here's hoping that there's more, that he returns home, lights some candles and soaks his feet. Upon reflection, there's a lot he can learn. There was no reason for him to let distractions swallow his dream.

But there's something the rest of us can learn, too. We shouldn't be distracted either. Labels might simplify conversation but not necessarily understanding.

I'm amazed at how some of the athletes in the Winter Games manage to focus while competing at this high of a level. It's too bad distractions cost a young man an Olympic medal last night. It'll be even worse if other distractions cause him undue grief in the future.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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