Interview by Slava Malamud for Sport-express.ru
JW: Let's speak English, ok? I'm afraid it won't be equally good in Russian. I try really hard but make lots of mistakes. There are so many rules in Russian, learning them all is beyond me.
SM: Can you read Russian?
JW: Read and write. I read your paper.
SM: Do you like it?
JW: Mostly. Say hello to Elena Vaitsekhovskaya, I've known her for a while.
A couple of months ago Weir stated he was coming back to the amateur sport, as if he suddenly recalled he forgot something there. Perhaps he was just missing shocking the judges? It's not as if he became any less tame in the last couple of years, he is still capable to shock.
`Those are the best sneakers ever!' exclamed a woman passing by a table where Weir and I were sitting. She pointed on Johnny's shoes - black sneakers decorated with some metal things. Johnny thanked her. The lady was not joking and made sure to repeat those were the best sneakers. Ever. She didn't bother elucidating on how well she knows the history of the sneakers, but Johnny didn't argue. Besides, it seemed he kind of agreed with her.
Today's Johnny is an open and well meaning guy. He is not hiding his preferences and the consiquences. He recently got married. To a Russian guy, of course. His name now is Johnny Weir-Voronov. He has a puppy named Artiom Viktorovich Weir-Voronov. Does your dog have a paternal name? No? Congrats, you are not Johnny. You probably don't have his sneakers either.
Phoenix in the aquarium
SM: So what's with the come back? Have the process started?
JW: Yes. Both the LP and the SP are done, I'm working on the quad. I have a loose a couple of pounds more, than will spend the summer to get back into a shape.
SM: Do you have to face any injuries you were not aware of?
JW: New? No, I got all the old ones back. But you know, I'm older and deal with it differently. I have a strategy.
SM: So the programmes are ready...
JW: In general yes. They are still to be polished but the skeleton is ready.
SM: Can you tell a bit? Which music are you going to use?
JW: It's a special kind of music. I'll just mention that I was personally given my SP music by Lady Gaga.
SM: You're kidding....
JW: Nope. The SP will be really cool. As for the LP... I went to the skaters of the 50s and the 60s, whose programme was much longer and included cuts from different pieces. I'll have the same, but modern and with a fast beat. There will be a lot of classical bits, music everyone knows. The theme of the programme is phoenix. How it rises from the ashes.
SM: Do you mean yourself?
JW: You bet. I'll tell my story on the ice.
SM: You spent 2 years of your life doing whatever you want. Why have you decided to return to the sport?
JW: I'm glad I took a 2 years break. I needed to get away from the skating and live without it. Figure skating is like a huge aquarium.
JW: Well, yes. You live like a fish behind the glass. Everyone can see you, everyone knows everything about everyone, gossip all the time. I guess it's the same in the hockey. Anyway, I escaped it all and was thrilled. Got married. My life is wonderful. I realized figure skating is not the only thing I can do and there are other things in life. So this is my current attitude: I'm on the ice because I want to be there, not because I have no choice.
SM: So what are you going to be like on the ice? Will we see the old Johnny Weir or a new one?
JW: I hope you'll see a more wise Johnny Weir. I was silly when young, aren't we all? I was strong minded, wouldn't listen to anyone. When you behave like that you are in your shell and when you have a bad day there is no one to get you out, you're alone. Now I have no reason to be like that. I did all I could do for the USA figure skating. If nothing will work this time I'll just retire and will be happy. So the new Johnny Weir is more relaxed and calmed. I hope it'll help me to become a better skater I was before.
SM: You are sure? What if you don't care about the winning and the competition anymore?
JW: I never really cared at the first place. I'm not like Pluschenko, who fights for his life on every competition. Perhaps because he is a Russian and I'm an American and we don't have to, unlike you, Russians to fight and suffer for everything. Perhaps it's just me - I'm not willing to kill for the victory. You, Russians, like the hockey and it shows. To score, to help the team... I can't escape the fact that in figure skating everything is decided by 14 eldery wo/men.
SM: George Forman once told me the Russian boxers are more hungry and aggressive than the Americans.
JW: The Russian system in Figure skating is the most serious one. It's especially true about the old Soviet coaches. Either you are successful, or you are a nothing.
SM: Were you shocked when facing that school? Tarasova probably wasnt' all nice and fluffy with you.
JW: It was just what I needed. You see, my first coach, Priscilla Hill taught me everything I know. But she is a very loving and a tender person, perhaps a bit too much. Tarasova kicked my ass. Outside the rink she was just a babushka: was feeding me, combing me.. Galina Zmievskaya is the same: on the ice she is the hardest and the cruelest person, while outside the rink our relationship is very warm.
SM: What is so special about the Russian figure skating school? What does it mean - skating like a Russian?
JW: I can explain that since I was always learning about the Russian school. The Russians do everything very dramatically. The Americans are more preserved in their moves. The Russians go to the extreme with the moves, the music, the costumes. The arms and legs moves are very wide, with a huge amplitude. The Americans make it all smaller.
SM: In the back times you used to name parts of your costumes.
JW: Don't worry, I'm as weird as I used to be. If I need to name a programme or a cosume - I will. Why not have fun. The worst thing is to be too serious. What's the point doing something that doesn't make you happy?
SM: I have an impression all your weirdness is calculated....
JW: Calculated?! No. I'm really weird and don't mind it.
SM: The others do though.
JW: Figure skating is an old sport. Not old, but well, eldery. The traditions are very important and the old people are ruling everything. Those people, by the way, are not interested in the gay athlets, and that's despite the fact in the USA the figure skating has kind of a `gay' reputation. It's just that everyone would rather keep it quiet and not upset the others.
I decided a long time ago there is nothing more important in life than to be what I am. As a consequence on one hand I didn't have to be in the usual boundaries. On the other hand I realize my results as the athlete suffered.
A shower for me, a platinum gold to Pluschenko.
SM: If the judging wasn't biased in what place would you finish in the 2010 Olympics?
JW: Wow... you know how long it took me to watch the other's skates? I was heartbroken after Vancouver. I was depressed and lost all the interest in figure skating. Vancouver was the peak. Indeed, it was the peak moment of my life - the most emotional, dramatic, the best one. I left the ice with so many feelings, but once the marks showed it was obvious I'm being put on the 6th place. Wow, I thought, so how well the others must have skated? Yet the journalists in the mixed zone were reporting that this skater fell, that one stopped in the middle of the programme, that one shitted on the ice, one burnt himself from his nostrils... So why wasn't I placed higher?... After 7-8 months I calmed down enough to watch the skating. I think I should had finished 3rd in Vancouver.
SM: It seemed you were less disappointed than Pluschenko.
JW: You bet.
SM: How did you take his reaction - that he deserved a platinum medal etc?
JW: Figure skating takes your whole life. Pluschneko rested for 3 years after Turino and if he came back it was probably not for the silver, right? So if it's the only thing you aim for, the only thing you wake up thinking in the morning and you don't get it... anyone would be upset.
I'm actually much closer to Evgeny than to Evan Lysacek and I cheer for him. Of course as far as the USA PR goes he did some damage. But everyone deals with the disappointments in their own way. Galina (Zmievskaya) after I had finished 6th went to McDonalds and eat chips. To do something like that she has to be really depressed. I went crying in the shower. Evgeny spoke about a platinum medal. Everyone and whatever calms them down.
SM: So your relationship with Lysachek, who became the champion are still so so?
JW: I havent' seen him for a very long time. The poison was mainly made by the USA media. And the FS federation. Of course we don't really like each other, but when I got married he was one of the first to congratulate me, which shocked me. Guess we both grew up. We don't have to like each other, but I have much more respect to his achievements now.
SM: So now you are back to figure skating. Do you think your odds are higher? The judges became more liberal?
JW: I thinks so. I hope so. If not -well, hey ho. By the way, the federation treats me better than ever. Guess they realize I'm the only one who can keep the figure skating popular in the USA. Evan won the Olympics but no one has a clue who is he. Yes. I can make our sport popular again.. I hope the federation will let me participate all the competitions I have to and will explain how to be liked by the judges as well as the public. For the last 2 years I got too used to skate for people who would clap just if I shake my ass.
SM: Do you think you might make hte judges like you?
JW: It's going to be hard. It's hard to Pluschenko, but he came back. I'm not nearly as popular as Zhenya in Russia. Though I have nothing to complain - I am loved and appreciated in the USA overall, the federation knows it and needs me.
Where the guy gets the Russian depression from?
SM: By the figure skating standards in Sochi you'll be an old man. If you make it there at all.
JW: Yes, I'll be 29. But I only started skating when I was 12, so I'll have 17 years of skating. Many of my rivals started skating when they were 2, so their body was under the pressure for much longer than mine. Why not make it to Sochi? The competition in the USA is not so hard right now.
SM: What can you look for in Sochi?
JW: it's a competition, so I aim to win. What's the point otherwise. If you go knowing you are not going to win why go? Just stay home. But I'll be thrilled just to be in Sochi. 3 Olympics is a huge success.
SM: Especially taking into an account how much you love Russia.
JW: Of course! Russia is my inspiration. I mean the coaches, the music, the culture and the figure skating tradition. To finish my skating career in Russia is a dream. Besides, I will be skating under my new last name - Weir-Voronov.
SM: Where do you get it from? You from a village in Pennsylvania. There are no Russians there.
JW: No idea. I just have it. SOme like maths. Some have some weird hobbies. I've been interested in Russia since I was 5. What is that country? Why no one except for me likes it? Why are there beautiful buildings on the Red SquarE? What is communism? I'm enchanted by all that.
SM: Have you found something in Russian culture that shook your world?
JW: Even the poorest of the Russians, one with no money and no job would behave as if he was Putin. It's a very Russian thing to behave like that. I respect it. In the USA people are afraid to do what they like in case they offend someone. Russians don't give a damn. They just need to feel they are in the rule and everyone else to agree. I'm interested in Russian history -it's so romantic with all the ups and down. The Red Square is the most beautiful place on earth. Every time I walk there I'm amazed.
SM: Guess there aren't many cheburashka collectors in the USA
JW: Even our puppy has a cheburashka.
SM: How many do you have?
JW: you know the Japanese bought the rights for Cheburashka? So every time I go to Japan I bring a suitcase full of Cheburashkas. I have them in every possible colour and shape. The Japanese have a great imagination and dress them in everytning possible. Cheburashki on the skates, wearing my costumes... Guess I can supply enough cheburashkas for 5-6 primary schools.
SM: Its a weird toy. That what he sings about himself...
JW: But it's so cute. Thats why I like it. No one knows where it came from and how it ended in the box of the oranges. That is why it is so loved.
SM: Let's have a Russian culture quiz. For example: what is your favourite Russian book?
JW: I have a small book of Pushkin's poetry I carry with me everywhere.
SM: Pushkin is hard to translate. Do you have favourite quotes?
JW: I recall one, but think it's actually Tolstoy: Upon the brink of a wild stream he stood and dreamed a mighty dream.
SM: It's Pushkin actually?
JW: I screwed, huh. Indeed Pushkin.
SM: Favourite movie?
JW Moskva slezam nye verit. (Moscow does not believe the tears)
SM: Good choice. Favourite celebrity?
JW: Alla Pugacheva. I adore her. If only because deep down I'm an old Russian woman myself. And Sergey Lazarev.
MS: An old Russian woman?
JW: a lot of my friends are eldery Russian ladies. My coaches, their friends, my dentist and her friends. We like talking about bags and fur coats, how to make the salads right....
MS: There you go: the favourite dish?
JW: My mother in law does incredibly tasty pirozhki with chicken. I like olivier salad and black caviar.
MS: The favourite Russian athlet?
JW: Evgeny Pluschenko, Irina Slutskaya, the gymnast Sveltlana Khorkina. I adore her, she is a diva.
How I was a Boris Eltsyn
SM:I'm just trying to picture a Russian athlet who loves the USA as much as you love Russia. Think he would have a hard time. How is it to be a rusophil in the USA?
JW: The Americans ask me the same. How come? Where does it come from? They are just curious. Guess in Russia such a person would be crusified without a chance to explain.
But I did a lot of silly things, I have to admin. Wearing a sweater with a `USSR' on it for the Olympics warm up for example. It was a present from Tatiana Totmianina. Guess the federation would be more happy if sitting with my coach in the K&C I spoke English rather than Russian. Who knows what I'm saying there right in front of the cameras. There were some other moments which didn't quite thrill everyone. But all and all people like it that I represent the USA in it's best - having the freedom to be what I want and love what I want.
SM: Does many in the USA like it?
JW: Well, not everyone, of course, but it's my fault. I used to be very aggressive throwing it into people's faces. I didn't realize the reaction it would create. I didn't realize how many people would be watching me in Turino Olympics. Of course some reacted quite harshly. Some ever threatened me. I had to register under a false name in the hotels. I was using `Boris Eltsyn' quite often.
SM: How were you threatened? On the phone?
JW: Calls, letters. I once received a fax saying `be a man and die. The reason was my costume that included fur. Those protesters against the fur are totally screwed up. I still receive some letters - the religious groups, the homophobes... It's worse when they actually try to get me. Now I'm being chased by one female fan. She is completely mad. She threatens me, Voronov, one of my friends who she imagined is my lover... it's hard dealing with mad people.
SM: Speaking of homophobia... you know how it is in Russia. Do you like it less as the result?
JW: It is painful to think people like me can't lead a normal life in Russian. It is painful to think those who speak up for them is being shut up. But what can you do? Being gay is not about being an American or a Russian or a Chinese or anything else. There is more or less the same amount of use everywhere. If I had a choice I would be heterosexual and wouldnt' suffer. It's so much easier! But I don't have a choice, nor does anyone else. It hurts me Russia doesn't recognize my way of living and hates it. But I love Russia despite it. I would have lived in Russia if I could. At least in Moscow.
SM: You mean there are no problems in Moscow and St. Petersburg?
JW: Never happened. Never! Think once someone was trying to steal my bag in Moscow. I attended a gay bar in Moscow once. There were other skaters who joined just out of curiosity. The security was so high. They didn't turn the music on till 3AM just to keep it low. It's sad. Russia is so modern in many ways, but as far as the gay rights go it's in the middle ages. There is no progress. As much as I'd like to be a Russian I am actually not and I can't fight with the homophobia in Russia.
SM: did your mother cry when you told her?
JW: Sure. All the parents who find our their children are gay start blaming themselves - as if it was their mistake. What my mother had to do with that? I was like that since I was 6... Now our relationship with her and with Viktor's parents are great, and that's despite the fact I'm not an easy person to live with.
Horses, Lady Gaga, Chanel
SM: Have you ever tried changing your skating style, make it more masculine?
JW: You bet I had. I used to work with Marina Anisina, the Olympics ice dance champion. She came up with a very interesting programmes where I was depicting a chess board in the SP and Jesus in the LP. She wanted me to skate in the most contemporary, sharp, masculine way. To get away from all the elegance and the ballet. But this is what I like! My idol is Mikhail Baryshnikov. It didn't quite work out.. though it was during a bad time in my life in general - my private life was down, I was depressed and it showed in my skating.
SM: You said you started skating when you were 12, which is very late. I heard it took you one week to learn the axel jump.
JW: Yes! I watched it very closely on the TV, then went to a frozen corn field near my home and jumped it.
SM: Landing on one foot?
JW: All as it should be. Why not? I'm from such an American nowhere that I'm not used to be afraid. I'm afraid of sharks and bug crowds. Spiders. But not of falling on the ice! We have so much snow and ice in Pennsylvania at the winter that your whole ass becomes one huge blue mark. Besides, I was riding the horses before that.
SM: Jumping above the fences?
JW: Yes. I was really small. Sitting on an animal of the size of a car and jump above things - now that is scary.
SM: Were you any good?
JW: Quite decent. I was first interested in soccer, but its' not for me. A team game, running, sweating, kicking the ball.. thanks, but no thanks. I tried skiing, and then switched to the horses. I was quite close to qualifying to the national team of my age, but then I got interesting in figure skating and forgot about the rest.
SM: Lady Gaga gave you the music. Are you friends?
JW: As much as you can be friends with a superstar. She supports me, takes interest in my career. I was once sitting in her mother's restaurant and her mother told me `It would be great if you skated to Gaga's music'
JW: Well, no, of course she called her Stephanie. Anyway, mom called the daughter and she sent me the music.
SM: Will you copy Gaga's costume?
SM: The judges will just love it.
JW: (laughts) we'll see. I just want to have fun. If it annoys people, makes them think, cry or laugh - well ,great! Who knows whether I'll win or finish 20th? But I'll be doing exactly what I wanted and nothing else. Guess my time to win the Olympic medal has passed, but to entertain people, change the sport, change my opinion on myself - that I still can do.
SM: You once said when you skate you are in the world of your dream and you want to take the viewer there with you. What does that world look like?
JW: Like the inside of the cloud. It's all sparkling and smells with Chanel n. 5
SM Cant' say I'm very surprised.
JW: it's my world. It's light, sparkling and good smelling.