Sunday, February 12, 2012

Johnny Weir on the Judging and the System


Note: This is part of an article I wrote for the "" featuring Johnny's Weir's comments at a press conference during 2012 Nationals. I asked the questions about the judging and the judging system. For the full article, click on the link at the bottom.

When he finished his long program at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Johnny Weir left the ice in tears, overwhelmed by the raw emotion over what he had just accomplished. Every elite athlete dreams of a moment like this, but only a lucky few ever get to truly experience one. The three-time U.S. national champion delivered the performance of a lifetime in front of the world at the Olympic Games. Yet even in a competition largely marked by flawed, shaky performances, the judges deemed Weir's perfect skate no better than sixth, triggering a controversy never yet put to rest.

Weir recalled that night in Vancouver and what transpired behind the scenes shortly after his skate. His placement, he said, did not shock him. “I knew most likely an Olympic medal wasn’t in my future. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know who is liked by the judges.” What stung the most was what he overheard backstage. A high skating official went up to his coach, Galina Zmievskaya, Weir recalls, and told her, “I wish we had know he was going to skate like that.” The implication, Weir said, was that they would have marked him different had they realized that after a shaky season he still had it in him to deliver such a performance. “Why should it matter? They should judge what happened that day.”

But now, the 27-year-old skater-turned-pop star is ready to come back. On January 19 Weir announced that he has resumed his early-morning practice routine and will forsake his red-carpet lifestyle in order to take another stab at Olympic competition.Such an experience would be enough to make most skaters hang up their competitive skates for good. And for a while that is what Weir did. In the two years since he set out to prove to himself and the world that he has what it takes to become a star without the benefit of Olympic accolades. From fashion runways and rubbing shoulders with celebrities, to starring in reality shows, writing an autobiography, and performing in ice shows worldwide, Weir maintained a higher public profile than most world and Olympic champions.

During the 45-minute talk with the press last week, Weir explained his decision and shared his no-holds-barred views on every topic: the judging system, his gay marriage, and everything in between.

On his reasons for coming back

Now that I’ve given myself two years away from competition, given myself time to eat and be fat and be happy and get married, I’m coming back in a completely different mind frame. I’ve achieved so many things in my career. This is not for a medal, not for the judges. This comeback is for me. I can come back and completely enjoy my skating because I have a life. I don’t have the pressure of “You win the Olympics or you work at Home Depot.”

Also, I'd like to push figure skating back in the public eye. We’ve been in a lull for a while. People don’t watch. I have a high public persona and I hope to use that to attract public attention to the many talents in the sport. I want to try to put figure skating back on the map with pop culture.

On the type of programs he plans to perform

I’m trying to find a way to mix Lady Gaga and Carmen. I don’t know if that will become something or if it’s just a random idea. I'm trying to come up with ideas to combine on ice and off ice persona. On ice I’m this very elegant, balletic and classical skater. Off ice, I'm a train wreck of a fashion person with too much makeup on. If I can tap into the enjoyment and creative vibes I get during shows, you’ll be seeing something different. It won’t be “now I’m doing this three turn because it gives me two-tenths extra points" and "now I’m doing this change of edge because it makes the level higher." It will be more free.

On political judging today

Things come in and out of fashion. Patrick Chan can fall down four times and still win by 30 points. It’s quite evident that there’s still a lot politically going on behind the scenes that we’re not privy to. The Russians were always vilified for politics and doing things behind the scenes, and people still don’t trust Russian skating officials. But when you fall three or four times and you win, it’s clear there’s something else going on. No one has a fair shot if Patrick Chan is in the competition. So it’s not about the rules and trying a quad; it’s about whether the judges like me. If they don’t it won’t matter what I do.

On the current judging system

The judging system to me is a lot of hot air. They’re trying to make it as complicated as possible so you can’t see what’s actually going on behind closed doors. You can’t actually see this person talking to a judge in the ladies’ room. Things like that happen in figure skating. The judging system is just smoke and mirrors.

But to be competitive you have to play by the rules and I’m prepared to do that. I’ll learn to do the whole footwork sequence on one foot and do a quadruple flip with my finger in my nose and have my costume do a complete change while I’m in midair and change from a swan to a deck of cards. Whatever I have to do, I’ll try. But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. The judges like me or they don’t.

Click here for the full article

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