“They’re not real or anything,” Johnny Weir is telling me, carefully slipping his Louis Vuitton-patterned skate guards over his blades. “But they’re fun.” They were a Christmas gift, from a little girl at Johnny’s old rink in Newark, Delaware. “Everyone around me knows how much I love Louis,” he says, admiring the elegant, intertwined LVs.
We’re at the Ice Vault, a nondescript rink in New Jersey where he’s trained for the past six months. Last June, Johnny, who grew up in Coatesville, switched coaches, after spending more than a decade in Newark. He’s just finished a 90-minute practice, and now he’s undressing, rhythmically undoing his layers: first the socks, then unwrapping the tape in between his toes like a ballerina. Then he stands up, and in the midst of one of my questions, Johnny Weir drops his pants.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. There’s a reason Johnny has the reps (yes, that’s plural) he does, one of them being his penchant for disarming candor. So I was prepared for — and maybe even looking forward to — a little shock entertainment. But the fact that he never broke stride or eye contact while, well, standing there semi-nude still struck me as a little alarming. And … kinda cool.
Off the ice, Johnny hasn’t exactly skated a clean program. While he’s hardly the pro-jock-gone-wild who gets tangled in a web of drugs/violence/gambling, he’s not as demure as he appears on skates. Take, for example, the continuing question of his sexuality. During the 2007 “Countdown to the Nationals” show, figure skating analyst Mark Lund, who is openly gay, said of Weir, “I cannot wrap my head around how overly out he is without saying he’s out. I’m sorry, I just don’t think he’s representative of the community I want to be a part of.” Lund wants him to just say it.
Good luck. “What it seemed [Lund] meant to say was because I skated to a piece called ‘The Swan’ and because I’m outspoken and because I wore a costume with a red glove, that I’m a bad representative of whatever community he was talking about. … ” Johnny trails off, shrugs. “In this sport there’s a lot of jealousy, because there are very few people who actually make it big and are legitimate figure-skating stars, and he never was one.” (Meow!) “So I’m sure he’s bitter and jealous that I have something and he doesn’t.”
Johnny says he wants to be remembered as someone who “pushed the United States figure-skating establishment,” and push he does: posing for a magazine in high heels and a minidress, wearing curious costumes for competition (in the 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, he portrayed that feathery swan with a red-glove beak, a performance mocked by Jon Heder in the recent Blades of Glory). He’s described himself as “princessy” and his costumes as, among other things, “an icicle on coke” and “a Care Bear on acid,” and he once began a press conference by differentiating, in detail, “scarf” and “boa” for the assembled journalists. Oh, and in one program he portrayed Jesus Christ.
All of which had the ice-skating establishment muttering, Jesus Christ.