Much as tattooed, hip-hopped, cornrowed Allen Iverson brought a new street-style brand of basketball to the NBA, Johnny Weir — the athlete-cum-divo whose candid and sometimes brazen comments rival those of Perez Hilton, and whose outrageous style and party-boy reputation are more worthy of coverage in Us Weekly than the sports pages — has brought a new, flashy face to ice-skating.
To understand Weir, you need to understand that ice-skating is an odd sport to begin with. Your score is determined, not by an agreed-upon, easily defined task (putting the ball in the hoop, the puck in the net), but rather by how well you can fawn before a panel of stone-faced middle-aged judges who look like they work for the DMV. It is defined by grace, fluidity and refinement, its signature swans crafting delicate fairy tales on ice. So imagine the ruffled feathers when a flamboyant, mouthy teenage shock jock skated onto the world stage in 2004, summarily winning three consecutive national titles and a trip to the Olympics in Turin.
On the day we first meet, a film crew from Retribution Media — two young guys he calls “the ladies” — sits with us. They’re here to pick up some clips for a planned reality series featuring Johnny, which as yet has no network or air date. He’s requested that I “look pretty” for our interview.
Looking pretty comes naturally to Johnny Weir. He’s a fetching hybrid of the feminine and masculine, an androgynous gossamer who attracts women and gay men equally. He’s lean and sinewy at five-foot-nine, and his most striking feature is his pouty bottom lip, the kind you want to bite, that anchors a top shelf of perfectly aligned, ice-white teeth. A brush of eyelashes frame kind, wide green eyes set off by a straight, serious set of eyebrows and a square jawline. He’s beautiful.
Then there are the costumes, covering up all his Johnny-looks-goodness with thematic glitter, glitz and jewels. “For a long time, I was told I had to ‘butch up’ and not be so balletic when I skate — this is the federation telling me this,” he says in disgust. “Christina Aguilera [his idol] never really let herself be told what to do.” He catches himself. “Except for her first album, we’ll give her that.”
At just 23 years old, he’s ranked among the top five male figure skaters in the world. And that may be the most shocking thing about Johnny Weir — cheeky quips and Cher-like showiness aside, he’s a total professional. Intelligent. Polite. These are the sides of Johnny the media doesn’t advance. By the end of the day, I want to spend more time with him — not for an article, but for the conversation. “The part that I will always hold dear is he can be so funny,” says Priscilla Hill, his Delaware coach for more than a decade. “He can get you with one word. But if it’s taken out of context, it can be used to hurt him, which is the unfortunate part. And that’s come back to bite him sometimes.”