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Johnny's in the Building

by Alexandra Stevenson

(4 October 2012)

As Johnny Weir leaves a short press interview after his first practice in Finland, he smiles and ask the assembled journalists, “Go to church tonight and say a prayer for me.” It’s been over two and a half years since the now 28-year-old last competed. That was at the 2010 Olympic Games, where he finished a disappointed sixth. He admits that was devastating. “It was horrible. I didn’t want to skate anymore. I felt I’d done the best I could and it wasn’t enough. It was time to move on.”

He went on to have a huge success in television with his own show, and was involved in a myriad of other activities. But today, Thursday, he’s in the new Barona Areena (Finns love double vowels), in Espoo, the country’s second city which adjoins Helsinki, on the practice day for the Finlandia Trophy. The contest begins Friday evening with the Short Program.

“I’m very excited about that because Lady GaGa gave me the music herself.” But he’s obviously somewhat nervous. “After I stopped skating, I didn’t follow the sport. I was too upset. Now there are a lot of new faces I don’t know but some are still around from my time.” 

Crossing the Atlantic and losing seven hours is hard. It’s quite normal for skaters from North America to this city, not far from St. Petersburg, to have a difficult time adjusting, with continuous yawns and bleary-eyed yawns and dragging feet. “Yes, I am jetlagged,” Weir admits. “I couldn’t sleep at all from 2am to 5am, and then I couldn’t get up when I had to, but I am excited to be here.

“I’ve lost 8 ½ kilos, 17 pounds, since I went back into full training. First, I had to make some money to be able to afford to train, but since then I’ve been working very hard.” With his sleeked down hair tied back, he smiles looking fresh as a daisy, not tired at all, and obviously he is enjoying himself. He seems to draw energy from the buzz of excitement which always seems to surround him. And why shouldn’t he? He is a world traveller of the nth degree who recently was in Japan doing a highly popular show with past world champions, Stephane Lambiel and Miki Ando.

In today’s practice, he performs his free, last of the five men who are in his group. While the others do their full routines, with Javier Ferdandez of Spain soaring through a quad toe to triple toe but then crashing out several times on a quad Salchow, Weir contents himself with gorgeous triple Lutzes. Before going through his routine, the Axel attempts are all doubles and his toe loops triples. He is obviously saving his energy for his turn.

When his music, “Sarabande”, starts, he does indeed complete the rotation on the triple Axel and quad toe, but steps out of both landings. He does not present much of the middle section but the final part, set to “Requiem for a Dream” has some unique moves. In one, in a kneeling position, he flings his head back so that it almost touched the ice. Very interesting!!

“I definitely felt a little stiff and tired but I can still shake my butt,” he said a little later. He is training with his old coach, Galina Zmievskayia in Hackensack, NJ, but not also with her prime pupil, the 1992 Olympic champion, Viktor Petrenko. “Viktor’s training Michal Brezina (of the Czech Republic) and we’re rivals so that doesn’t work out.”

Weir says he’s far less uptight now he is married. “That’s been a big change in my lifestyle. I’m having a life outside the rink. I’m not going to die if I lose or miss a podium by a fraction. I don’t have to be pulled by the hair by Galina to get me on the ice anymore.

“I did have boot problems to start. I’d had the same pair since Vancouver and I had to get new ones.  I do want to go to Sochi (for the Olympics). It will be very hard to do so. It will be a new step in my career. No matter what, figure skating has gotten me to where ever I am in life, and I’m pleased with that. I intend to try a quad in both the Short and the Long Program here. I’m especially proud of the music for the Short. It was given to me by Lady GaGa herself.”

Teammate Richard Dornbush, on the same practice, wasn’t having too much luck with his quad, either.

Dancers are in the building too

Earlier in the day, the third ranked US Americans, Madison Hubbell & Zach Donahue, were smiling as they left the ice.  Their run-through had gone well and they were obviously enjoying themselves despite the disorienting stress of the seven-hour time change. That was magnified by their long overnight journey from Detroit, which was made even more challenging by their five-hour wait for a connection in Amsterdam Airport.

“It wasn’t too bad,” Hubbell said. “We were traveling with our Detroit skaters (including Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje and the Australians, Daniel O’Brien & Greg Merriman), who were going to the event in Bratislava. So, while we were all waiting for the two separate on-going flights, we had a party celebrating Greg’s 24th birthday!”

Hubbell & Donahue made a splash last year when they won at the Nebelhorn Trophy in their first international together. They went on to earn bronze in nationals and take tenth place in Worlds. On Thursday, they were surprised to hear that Olympic champions Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir had withdrawn. “Well that makes the event a lot more competitive,” Hubbell said with a smile.

The Finns weren’t that concerned over the withdrawal. A representative of the television company showing the event said, “We have Kiira Korpi competing. For us she is a huge star so the Canadians not being here is not that big a deal.”