Johnny Weir talks Lady Gaga, 'Carmen,' road ahead
SAN JOSE -- Johnny Weir was in the building Friday night, talking about creativity and competition, Lady Gaga and "Carmen," marriage and friendships, but mostly about the comeback he's about to make in competitive figure skating.
Weir, the three-time national champion, announced his comeback earlier this month, saying he intends to return to the ice and prepare to compete for a spot in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
He showed up here on the same day as the men's short program was being contested in the U.S. Championships, a night that ended up being dominated by a couple of training partners from Detroit, the current heart of U.S. Figure Skating.
Two-time national champion Jeremy Abbott set the bar high with a charming and clean performance, scoring a 90.23 and taking a sizeable lead heading into Sunday's free skate. Right below him on the scoreboard was training partner Adam Rippon (82.94), and Armin Mahbanoozadeh was third (80.66). Defending U.S. silver medalist Richard Dornbush had a disastrous program, falling on his first jump and popping out of two others to tumble to 16th place.
After a "pretty crushing" fourth-place finish at last year's nationals, Abbott said he felt "fantastic" Friday night, snapping his suspenders and skating with spirit and speed.
"I've just building confidence with each competition and slowly kind of chugging forwards and upwards," Abbott said. "I just kind of feel like the 'Little Engine That Could' at this point. To see a score of 90, it's huge."
Rippon has never finished higher than fifth at nationals and had a history of struggling with his short program in this event."I think it's really affected my whole skating in a really positive way," said Rippon, who began training with Abbott last summer with coaches Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato. "I feel like we are kind of coming in here as a team."
Weir, meanwhile, was in town to get reacquainted with the sport he walked away from after finishing sixth in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"I have found, especially in the last few months, that I really like performing, that I love figure skating in front of people," Weir said. "It's easy to forget that when you are competing and have the pressure of all that. I love skating and sparkling and flying around the ice and people clap for you. It's an amazing feeling."
Weir will return and once again become one of the most interesting figures in the sport. On Friday, he showed up carrying a fur coat, wearing a pinkish streak in the front of his hair and painted nails. He said it is his intent to skate with more freedom at this stage in his career, and to worry less about scores and required elements.
"I do hope that I will win something," Weir said. "I would love to become a four-time national champion and, leading up to Sochi, a five-time champion. And world medals ... all those things are beautiful and sacred and something that I hope for. But they are not something that I can control. So I'm going to skate exactly the way I want to, create programs that I like and everything will fall into place where it is supposed to."
Weir said he has been working on dropping weight (another 6 to 8 pounds) so he can get back to his full complement of jumps, including the quad. He said he has been on the ice since the fall, ramping up to every-day skates over the past few weeks. He intends to skate events beginning in the summer leading into the next season.
"I can do all of my triples and my triple-triple combinations," Weir said. "We are working on fresh spins, fresh positions, working on my edge work ... The biggest thing for me has been relearning how to skate.
"I've already said to my fans and the press of the world that this is going to be a slow comeback, I'm not going to come back and be No. 1 right away. There's some comfort that I can come back and fall down and I can move forward."
He is working to talk his coach, Galina Zmievskaya, into letting him mix Lady Gaga and "Carmen" for his long program.
"I don't know if it will happen. Galina is very anti-mixing," Weir said. "But we are definitely coming up with creative ideas ... I showed her and played them back to back and she said 'Hmm,' and that's a positive thing for me."
He said he came back with the support of his husband Victor Voronov. The two were married in New York on New Year's Eve.
"Victor is very supportive of my comeback," Weir said. "It's important to me to have a strong and happy marriage, especially being a young gay couple and it being a very new thing for the world for gay people to actually be married. I wouldn't have come back if Victor had told me no."
Weir will find himself again competing against 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, who is set to resume his competitive career in the next few months. The two have had a tumultuous relationship through the years.
"He and I have had a rocky relationship. We were very competitive with each other, from the same country, competing for the same titles," Weir said. "As testy as he and I have been, he was literally one of the first three people to congratulate me on my engagement and my marriage. So, despite all of our rivalry, we do have mutual respect."
Weir had plenty of praise for Abbott, even before Abbott's performance Friday night.
"Jeremy Abbott beat me and Evan in the last two years that we were competing against him in the national championships and I think he's a great skater," Weir said. "I would much rather watch Jeremy Abbott than [Canadian] Patrick Chan [the 2011 World Champion]. He is beautiful on the ice. He's very smooth. The way he connects his elements is very interesting. Much like me, he's had a very up-and-down career. My hope was that after me and Evan were out that he would be the face of men's figure skating."