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Chasing the dream

Q&A with figure skater, three-time U.S. champ Weir

Posted: Thursday February 16, 2006 10:31AM; Updated: Thursday February 16, 2006 12:36PM
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Figure skater Johnny Weir is second behind Russia's Evegeni Plushenko after the short program.
Figure skater Johnny Weir is second behind Russia's Evegeni Plushenko after the short program.
Simon Bruty/SI

TURIN, Italy -- SI Olympic writer Brian Cazeneuve recently interviewed U.S. men's figure skater Johnny Weir, who enters Thursday night's free skate at the Palavela in second place behind Russia's Evegni Plushenko following the short program of the men's competition. The 21-year-old Weir is the three-time defending U.S. champion and is attempting to become the highest-finishing American in men's figure skating since Paul Wylie won a silver medal in 1992.

SI.com: What would surprise people about Johnny Weir?

Weir: Probably that I am very sensitive and very quiet, because I'm very brash and kind of a badass in interviews and always say things that aren't necessarily what I was supposed to talk about. I'm very sensitive. If I read something in the newspaper that's bad, I get upset. When people take things out of context, I get upset. I'm really just a normal person. I will talk about what I want because it's normal to me. I just live. I don't get caught up in negative influences in my life. I just let them go, and I think people tend to think of me as much more overproduced and overly made up and just an arrogant American prick, I guess. I think I'm a very good person. I care very much about other people and their thoughts. Even if I do bad-mouth people in the press and say things that are controversial, it doesn't mean I'm not going to hear your side of it and try to understand you. People think I have this agenda, the rebel of U.S. figure skating, and that's not at all true.

SI.com: If you were made czar of figure skating, what would you change?

Weir: What goes? Probably a lot of the old guard. I think a lot of times there are these judges and officials who are a lot older and they are still stuck in the '40s or the '50s or whenever they grew up and they can't see that the world changes and the kids change and things are more modern and it's not necessarily a bad thing to be your own person. I'd try to expand the sport so there could be more countries in the ISU. They're doing a pretty good job of getting some new ones in. There's Puerto Rico and the Philippines, Thailand. There are new countries all the time, but there's a huge sector of the world that aren't necessarily poor countries but they have no good skaters and no good coaches. I'd want everything to be equal, so that maybe someone from Luxembourg or Bosnia has the same chance as someone from the United States.

SI.com: What do you think of the new judging system?

Weir: I liked the new judging system last year because I was winning a lot and I wasn't paying attention to it. But now that I know more of the ins and outs of it I'm not as big a fan, because it makes me think and so I lose the performance aspect of skating and of my programs, which is always something I've been very proud of and now I haven't had it for some time. Ultimately it's better. It's making us better skaters and stronger skaters, but at the same time it's a lot to think about and work with in the year of the Olympics. It's a problem, too, because I don't think the judges exactly understand what's going on, and the skaters don't, the coaches don't, so not everyone's on the same page. You can do something you think is incredibly difficult, but if the judge, just because they weren't schooled enough on it, thinks it's a very low level, they think it deserves very few points. There's so much gray area, because no one understands what's going on.

SI.com: Is it true you learned how to do axels in a cornfield?