Ekaterina Kulinicheva speaks to Weir for sport-express.ru
He is the 3 times USA national champion, but his achievements in the international level are modest - he only ever got a bronze medal at the worlds 2008. Nevertheless, he is one of the most loved skaters and his decision to come back and participate the Olympics in Sochi became a sensation all over the world. A week ago the 28y.o. American participated a competition in Espoo: it was his first competition in 2.5 years.
I want to live my life the way I choose
- I have very positive feelings about my comeback, smiled Johnny sitting in the press room in Espoo. He had just finished the competition becoming 4th and seemed if not satisfied certainly not crashed.
-I'm not Pluschenko, I can't come back the way he did - winning the nationals, then Europeans. We've always been different. Of course I admire his achievements, but I decided to take things slowly. There were some positive as well as negative things in Finland, but then I didn't expect to be on the top of the form in October. It's impossible. I need more time. My goal was to show everyone that I indeed came back and not just trying to create some talks with no reasons. Everything I've been doing in those 2.5 years was great: show, fashion, music, books - all those things the celebrities do. But it can't compare to figure skating.
EK: How did people close to you take your decision?
JW: There aren't too many close people. Everyone were supportive. Including Galina (Zmievskaya) who said I can come back any time I feel ready. I realized what was expecting me - it's hard to come back and compete with the 17, 18, 19y.o. They are kids who have nothing but figure skating in their lives. I will be almost 30 in Sochi. It's hard, especially if you are not a fighter like Pluschenko. But if people see me overcoming myself on the daily basis perhaps they will be inspired to become better.
EK: Do you remember the moment you decided to come back?
JW: I think it was in February (actually in the end of January). But, of course, I needed time to realize it's real. I think it went on till June till we had the first run through of the programme. That's when I realize that guess I was going to compete again.
EK: You mentioned several times the defeat in Vancouver broke your heart. Could you imagine back then you'd attempt to come back?
JW: No way! But after being home for two years everything becomes possible.
EK: Are there any old injuries that bother you?
JW: So far so good. There are small things every day - I might hurt a toe on a bad landing or just hurt something. But it's because I'm so old.
Unlike Lysacek after making the decision Johnny didn't argue with the US figure skating federation about the money and participated shows to gain enough money to pay the bills. He doesnt' mind admitting so. At the end of the day he is the one who is seen as the figure skating saviour who could bring 3 spots to the USA in Olympics.
EK: After retiring you openly admitted being gay and married a man. Did it influence your relationship with the federation?
JW: My whole life I wanted to live the way I like. Not so more people would like me, but for myself. If people care about me being married to a man - well, I'm proud of it. I told many times why did I go public about being gay : it happens the teenagers commit suicide because they are afraid not being accepted the way they are. It's awful. Perhaps my story will make someone stronger.
As for my relationship with the federation ever since Vancouver things changed. I became a star in the USA and it's a big difference. The Federation knows I want to bring the viewers back to figure skating, I know they'll support me in getting to the Worlds. Our relationship now is far better than it used to be. I'm not trying to change them, they are not trying to change me.
Business is a competition as well
EK: There is an opinion figure skating becomes less and less popular. Is your mission to make the sport as beloved as it used to be?
JW: It is indeed important for me. I didn't win the Olympics, but it'\s not important for the audience. Some think I was - I was congradulated on winning the gold several times. I want to show there are plenty of interesting people in the Figure Skating who deserve to be as loved as say, the football players. They are just payed less. Figure skaters have to work really hard for much lesser goods.
Why figure skating becomes less popular? It think because it became a gymnastics on the ice. There is no place for art anymore. We need more skaters who are willing to take a risk and try something new. It's hard, especially in such countries as the USA, where the competition is so high. In order to get to the worlds you have to beat everyone domestically. Hence skaters have to follow the rules and there isn't much space left for expressing themselves.
I think the CoP is important, but it deprived the audience from understanding what is going on, why someone wins and someone looses. It used to be easy enough :you fall you loose. Now you can fall 4 times from your jumps but make more revolutions in the spins or something else and win. People don't understand it.
EK: It was written FS became less popular in the USA because there are no local champions. Hence the federation is so interested in your and Lysacek's comeback.
JW: It's hard to tell. During my time in show business I learned one thing - the show biz is also a competition, but the goal is not a medal, it's the public's attention. Not only you compete with Lysacek, but with Kardashian, Aguilera and others. If the interest in figure skating went down it's not because of me, Lysacek or Pluschenko - there is a deeper reason. Our sport is not as glamorous as it used to be.
For example when I look at my marks I don't understand what they mean. And, frankly, I'm not even trying to find out. I always tried to express myself, show the emotions. Fortunately my coaches understand the rules. They tell me what to do, provoke me all the time to make the programme harder, for example to put a 3A in the 2nd part of the programme. Coaching me means being one step ahead, surprise me and make me do something I don't really want to. It's not for nothing they call Galina a talented puppets master.
Retiring after his failure in Vancouver Weir didn't really know what is he going to do in his new life. In the end he did no less good then , for instance, Lysacek. Johnny participated various show, he published a book `Welcome to my World', became one of the fashion guys and charmed everyone with his reality show `Johnny be good', which received good feedbacks and a good press. For instance the USA today journalist wrote `I didn't really know that guy before but became a fan of his after the 1st episode'
So as far as the Americans go Johnny is even more of a star now coming back than he was when he left.
Gaga on ice
EK: How did it happen that Lady Gaga gave you a remix of Poker Face for your programme?
JW: I was sitting with her mother in New York restaurant at the winter and I mentioned I'd love to do a competitive programme to Gaga's song, but there is a problem: am not allowed to use lyrics. Of course I could find a karaoke cover, but that's silly. She dialed her daughters' number immediately and let me ask her. Lady Gaga is so amazing. I respect endlessly people who can be so successful yet so humble. In the end after that call Gaga sent me 3 versions of Poker Face without lyrics. It's a great story, by the way! No matter how do I skate I have a Gaga music!
EK: Have you considered a show together?
JW: Oh, I did. I'm considered a Gaga on the ice, so it would make sense to do a show together. I'd love to create something special for the Olympic season: to get together all the ideas I have, do create costumes with the known designers, to try and unite all the talented people who I was lucky to work with during the last two years.
EK: What will become of your celebrity life now?
JW: I still get a lot of offers. But I decline everything now and concentrate on training. You can't live in both worlds at the same times. Of course I have to make money and pay the bills, but sport comes first now. It's how it is supposed to be if I want to be back on the high level. But my show is still popular in the USA and it's nice.
Many are skeptical about Weir's perspectives in sport. After his LP in Espoo one of the quite knowledgeable people said : I don't know. Figure skating is a hard sport. Johnny himself asks to give him time and says he is not stupid to skate show programmes in the competitions. Indeed in the practices he seemed much more confident, which is a good thing.
JW: The new programmes are cool, interesting and comfortable. I hope everyone will be able to see that soon - just as soon as I overcome my nerves.
We are looking forward, Johnny!