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Weir rides unflappable demeanor to Spokane

Headed to the Pacific Northwest confident and refreshed

Johnny Weir will try for his fourth national title next week in Spokane.
Johnny Weir will try for his fourth national title next week in Spokane. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/06/2010) - Johnny Weir rang in the New Year feeling something he hasn't always felt: well prepared for a major competition.

"Training has been going really well, actually," the three-time (2004-2006) U.S. champion said. "I'm in shape, doing run-throughs all the time. I feel strong and positive.

"The other day, Galina [Zmievskaya] said that ever since I've started training with her [in summer 2007], I've yet to come across as completely confident in my programs. Now, she's finally saying I'm getting there."

The 25-year-old skater's current state-of-mind and body is a huge up tick from this time last season, when Weir arrived at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships tired and a bit dispirited, recovering from a bout of flu aggravated by back-to-back trips to Asia for competition and shows.

"Compared to last season going into nationals, I feel great," he said. "Back then I didn't know what I wanted. Now I know I want to be there for the Olympics in Vancouver in February. I want to be national champion again. I want medals. I feel that need to achieve again."

Those moments of uncertainty were brief but costly. Coming off a world bronze medal in 2008, Weir opened the 2008-09 season with a silver medal at Skate America, losing gold by a hair to then-unheralded Takahiko Kozuka of Japan. He went on to take silver at Japan's NHK Trophy despite competing with a heavy cold. A few weeks later, he won bronze at the Grand Prix Final in Goyang, South Korea.

That's when his luck ran out. Over Christmas, Weir traveled to South Korea a second time, to perform in friend Yu-Na Kim's "Angels on Ice" show benefiting children's charities. While there, he caught a bug, losing eight pounds in a single day and spending Christmas Day in a hospital.

When the U.S. Championships came around in Cleveland in January, Weir admitted, "It's not the best condition I've ever been in at nationals." He ended up popping triple Axels in both his free skate and short program, placing fifth. For the first time since 2003, he was off the world team.

Ironically, this fall has yielded similar results: Weir repeated as silver medalist at NHK and bronze medalist at the Grand Prix Final. But he said his mindset has changed.

"I really want the title back," he said. "Of course, Evan [Lysacek] is coming in to nationals very strong. He's the world champion, the Grand Prix Final champion. Skating is still somewhat political. Still, I can't cry over something I can't control.

"All I can do is skate as well as I'm skating in practice and be happy with that. Winning the national title again, though, would be a dream."

Weir's focus in recent weeks has been on refining his "Fallen Angel" free skate, choreographed by David Wilson to a mélange of music chosen by Weir himself.

"We've been working on making it more interesting, making the transitions stronger, building energy," he said. "As I said before, it's a lot of run-throughs, a lot of repetition."

The skater felt like he had a breakthrough of sorts at the Grand Prix Final with his "I Love You, I Hate You" short, also choreographed by Wilson, to rumba-themed music from Raul DiBlasio.

"Performing that program is very fun; it's easier to get into character," he said. "It's not forced. I have fun every time I do it. Galina's constantly yelling at me, 'Make it sexier! Be more present!'

"I have to perform the free more like I do the short. Now I'm working [to improve] the Program Components [score]. The Grand Prix Final was a good step; I skated it clean, even though I was still only fourth [in the free]. But I felt strong and in control."

Unlike defending U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, who plans to include a quadruple toe loop in his free skate, Weir is unlikely to try a quad in Spokane.

"The quad is going really well in practice," he said. "We started working on again after the Grand Prix Final. I'm happy with the pace I'm working at. As long as I play my cards right, it will be there for the Olympics, assuming I'm on the team."

Weir, who hasn't tried the four-revolution jump in competition this season, has a more immediate goal in mind: completing all the planned moves in his free skate. Deleting double jumps and combinations has helped cost him several titles in past years, including 2008 Skate America and the 2008 U.S. Championships.

"First and foremost, I have to do all of my combinations," he admitted. "I'm a constant leave-it-outer. I think I've lost more titles because of double toes than any other skater in history.

"I'm still a little bit old school; I kind of think triple-double-double [combinations] are silly, but hey, they help rack up the points. That's my problem and I have to get over it fast. Like now."

Due partially to Olympic-year television demands, the U.S. Championships are holding senior events over two weekends this season, with the men and pairs up first January 15-17. Weir, who's arriving in Spokane late next Tuesday, makes no secret of his displeasure.

"It's ridiculous," he said. "This is not reality TV. I'm really agitated with it. To separate events like this is just a pain. I mean, who puts a senior men's free at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday?

"We all pay our own way to nationals and pay [hotel] while we're there. Galina and I are flying out on Tuesday, but she will not stay the whole next week, so God-willing if I make the exhibition we'll have to fly back [to New Jersey]. That's an added expense and a huge headache."

Speaking of reality TV, the Sundance Channel eight-episode documentary series on Weir, Be Good Johnny Weir, is scheduled to launch on January 18. While filming continues -- executive producers James Pellerito and David Barba were on hand for Weir's New Year's Eve celebration at New York City's Mari Vanna restaurant -- the skater emphasized it hasn't been a distraction.

"After the Grand Prix Final, I took one day off [training]," he said. "Aside from that, I've had no days off almost this whole season. I'm honest, I'm outspoken, I always answer everybody's questions, so I'm kind of an easy mark. You know, people saying, 'He's not practicing enough' or 'He's out shopping.'

"I'm an athlete. There are no issues with my lifestyle. I'm not out partying all the time; New Year's Eve, I skated all day with Galina, then I had my hair done and had my party with some friends and fans. I took the next day off, and then I was back in the rink again."

Weir knows the documentary and attendant publicity mean little if he's not in Vancouver in February. He's taking no chances heading into what may be his final U.S. Championships.

"I'm stronger, more powerful, and healthier this season," he said. "There have been times in my career when I haven't felt my own essence. I didn't feel my own strength. Now I do."