Sports: Johnny Drama

Figure-skater Johnny Weir makes headlines for his bad-boy life off the ice.

NBC commentator Tom Hammond once said Johnny was “considered a loose cannon by skating officials”; as if to prove the point, the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) has given Johnny sit-downs and slaps on the wrists for various outbursts. The unspoken message: Skaters should be seen — preferably doing a triple salchow — and not heard.

“My son will never be that way,” says Johnny’s mom, Patti, who has defended him so vehemently that she, too, has been dressed down by the USFSA. She credits Johnny’s dad for his stubbornness, herself for “his off-the-wall stuff,” and both of them for his often-brutal honesty. “He has strong opinions about things,” Patti Weir says. “Do I think at one point the USFSA wished he would’ve shut up or not been as outspoken? Oh, most definitely. But he’s allowed to say if he doesn’t care for something or if he thinks something is wrong.”

And here’s what no one in skating is saying: Johnny Weir may actually be the best thing to happen to the sport since Dorothy Hamill shook her shiny ’70s bob in Innsbruck. It’s Johnny’s unconventional personality — and sheer talent — that makes him the most popular kid in the class, bringing flash to a snoozy sport. His global fan base is so strong that a special banner ships among his admirers, spanning nations to support him at competitions. (One of the first things Johnny does when stepping onto the ice is look for it.) “I have no big international title,” he says. “I’m not an Olympic or world champion, or even a medalist in either of those events, so for me to have the fan base that I have, it amazes me.”

He has fans everywhere, it appears, except among the figure-skating intelligentsia. Celebs Hamill, Nancy Kerrigan, Peggy Fleming, Brian Boitano and Scott Hamilton all begged off talking about Weir for this story. In a preview before the 2007 nationals, Kerrigan told other commentators, “Johnny is a little more out there, and it’s hard for people to relate to him.”

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.