Johnny Weir Meets the Press at State Farm U.S. Championships

by Amy Partain
Johnny Weir
Photo by Paul Harvath

Check out all the news, photos and video from the State Farm U.S. Championships

(1/12/05) — Johnny Weir has been on a roll since last January. At the 2004 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Atlanta he won the U.S. title, then he placed fifth at his first World Championships, and this season he has won two ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating gold medals and one silver. But in December, after qualifying first for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final, he had to withdraw with an ankle injury.

During a press conference Wednesday at the 2005 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Weir said he is healthy and ready to defend his title.

“I've been training hard at home and doing lots of repetition on the jumps,” he said. “I'm feeling really confident.”

The last year of Weir's life has been different. After winning the U.S. title, he said he has been busier than ever. During the spring of 2004 he toured with the Tom Collins' Champions on Ice tour, then he spent a few weeks in the summer in Simsbury, Conn., putting together two new programs. While things have been different, Weir said he feels it's been better.

“I'm definitely better and that's good,” he said. “I take each experience as it comes and I'm not expecting too much. But it's cool to give autographs and receive fan mail with people saying they admire you or that you're an inspiration to them.”

That philosophy means that this week Weir is concentrating on the task at hand — winning his second U.S. title. Being defending champion hasn't changed his approach to the competition, he said, which he considers one of the hardest of the year.

“I'm coming here fighting as though I'd fallen into the wall last year,” Weir said, referring to problems he experienced at the 2003 U.S. Championships in Dallas. “Last year is over and this is a completely new competition. It's a harder competition because everyone watching knows you or is a personal friend. It's special to have a good experience here.”

Weir has been working on a quad but won't include it in his programs in Portland. Instead he'll do what he does best — focus on the program as a whole.

“I really try to focus on the whole package of the program, the steps and the spins, not just jumping to music — I focus on the details,” he said. “I'm not driven by medals. I'm in this because I love to skate.”

With that skating perspective one would think that Weir would be excited about the new ISU judging system. But instead Weir said he really hasn't paid attention to it. He feels that he doesn't need to understand the details of the system because he trusts the coaches who train him and who put his programs together.

“I skate because it's what I do, it's what I do well and I love it,” he said. “I like that it (the new judging system) awards spins, steps and details of the program, which are strong suits for me. But I really don't care about it, and maybe that will be the difference between an Olympic gold and fifth place.” Weir said he feels that there are still possibilities for the judges to hold up skaters and place them in the standings. He agreed that the system is an improvement but emphasized that it isn't a full-proof system against cheating.

Weir's coach Priscilla Hill agreed but thinks the system is a step in the right direction.

“I wish I were competing in this era,” Hill said. “It (the new system) looks at every aspect of the skating and lets the skaters know what the judges think. Skaters know that the judges liked their footwork or their spins. It also helps those of us coaching younger skaters. It helps them understand why the coaches are pushing them on more than jumps. I hope they continue to revise it and it continues to grow.”

An Interesting Background
While he's known for being a complete skater, amazingly when Weir started skating he was only interested in jumps. To remedy that, Hill had Weir start skating pairs.

“I had him skate pairs because he would have to match this little girl in stroking and spins, which she was very good at,” Hill said. “I think that helped him get to this level.”

Of course, there came a point when Hill said they all knew that Weir would need to focus on singles instead of pairs. His slight build didn't lend itself to overhead lifts, but his concern for his partner also played a part.

“He would be landing triples on one rink as a single and then we'd go to the other rink to do pairs,” Hill said. “He never wanted her to feel bad if she fell and he didn't. So as they were doing side-by-side jumps he would look at her in the air and if it looked like she was going to fall, he would fall, too. That's when I knew we needed to stick to singles.”

His first experiences working with a choreographer also helped with his development as an artistic skater. Weir said he started to feed off the choreographer and the emotion that came from the music.

“That's when I started to feel the music more and connect with a piece of music,” he said. “I was a novice and I think that's when I started to evolve in a more artistic direction.”

With the 2006 Olympic Winter Games just 13 months away, Weir is trying to not look too far ahead. If things go well at the U.S. Championships, he plans to put the quad in his programs for the Four Continents Championships and the World Championships. Hill said she feels this is a building year as they approach the Olympics but believes that every year of Weir's career has built on the one before.

“Every day I want him to make the most of that day,” she said. “Even if it is a bad day, he can learn something from it.”

Weir's climb to the top of the U.S. figure skating ranks has been a fast one — he started skating when he was 12 and seven years later was the U.S. champion. While that may not be the normal track for competitive skaters, it doesn't seem unusual to either Weir or Hill.

“I guess it's a gift from God that I could really get myself together so quickly,” Weir said. “It's not shocking to me because it's my life.”

Hill said as a younger skater she also progressed quickly, and early in her coaching career didn't realize the time it takes many skaters to move through the ranks.

“When I started coaching Johnny he progressed at what seemed like a normal rate to me,” she said. “If he said he felt good and wanted to test novice after only a couple of years, I said OK. Somehow we were allowed to be together, but I've been able to help keep it a normal life for him. It doesn't seem awkward to us.”

Weir begins defense of his title Thursday with the short program competition at 3:30 p.m. local time.