If you've paid any attention to figure skating in the past decade, chances are you've been charmed by Johnny Weir. This two-time Olympian dazzled audiences at Torino and Vancouver with his audacious authenticity. (Anyone remember his swan costume?)
He once told the New York Times that he wanted to show the world the artistic side of his sport. "Jumps are jumps, and everybody can do those jumps," he said. "But not everybody can show something wonderful and special and unique and different.”
With this kind of charisma, it's no wonder Weir was hired by NBC to be a commentator during the Sochi games. We caught up with him to find out about Sochi, skating, and more.
MBG: Congratulations on becoming an NBC figure skating analyst. Did you set goals for yourself in this new role?
JW: My goals for the moment are to improve with every broadcast. It was difficult for me to learn to rely on my voice to tell the story, instead of people being able to see me! I'm a very visual person and spend a great deal of energy making sure that my styling and packaging are interesting and show my personality, but in the commentary booth I have to tell the story with my voice, words, and performance ability.
Another goal is to expand the fandom of figure skating and teach people about what they're watching. I want audiences to appreciate the sport and how difficult it is and how many interesting personalities we have within our world. I think it's fabulous that two young skaters, myself and Tara Lipinski, have been brought on board to tell the world what it's like to skate now, and bring a fresh perspective to a beloved sport.
What’s something you'd like TV viewers to understand about Olympic figure skating that we probably don’t?
With NBC's live coverage of every skating event, America will be able to see all 30 skaters per discipline for the first time in history, live! Of course I am happy that I will be in charge of voicing these moments as they unfold, but I think the thing that people have to know about skating is how dedicated every athlete is. Even if they fall, they've still dedicated their lives to being on such a big stage.
Also, skaters have to achieve a minimum technical score to even be thought of to compete at the Olympics, let alone make their national teams, so you're seeing the creme de la creme of the sport. Even if 20th place is 100 points behind first place, it will help the audience to appreciate how good the winners actually are!
When you were skating, did you ever listen to what TV commentators said about your performance?
Dick Button, the legendary commentator and Olympic champion, was our Simon Cowell. He told it like it was. I always wanted to hear what Dick or Scott Hamilton said about me, because they were my audience members with the biggest voice that could help direct public opinion about what I was doing on the ice. I wanted to impress them, and I hope I did.
What’s it like to be a spectator of the sport you competed in for 17 years? Do you get nervous before an athlete attempts a big spin or a jump?
I actually still get competitive with the skaters I am commentating for. I don't think it will last forever, but as I've just recently retired from amateur competition, I am still sad not to be fighting with the skaters for medals and trying to beat them! I am, however, very excited to share my insight with the world, and let the public know who these skaters are from a personal perspective. I know almost every skater entered in the Olympics personally, and I can guarantee that I'll be nervous for my friends and wishing success to everyone.
How do you stay in shape now?
I still skate almost every day. My physique and health are very important to me so I follow a less rigorous plan than what I did for my Olympic appearances, but I still break a sweat on the ice every day and almost every other day in the pilates studio.
What’s your philosophy around food?
Actually, I am currently dieting to prepare for a big skating tour in Russia after the Olympics, and the most reliable diet for me is one meal a day before five o'clock and supported by lots of coffee. It is extreme dieting for sure, but it works for me.
I think it's important to know what works for you as opposed to simply reading a book and following the diet set out for you by a stranger. I also understand the value in indulging every once in a while to curb cravings. White wine and chicken fingers are my poison of choice on indulgent days.
You’ve been legendary for your authenticity. Was that something you actively cultivated, or did it come naturally?
Thank you. My parents always taught me to love and believe in myself before anyone else would, and it made me strong and confident.
Any tips for readers trying to become their most authentic selves?
I urge every one of your readers to focus as little energy as possible on negativity and live as you wish. If we do in fact have only one life, why not live it? It's important for people to get to know themselves in this time of Facebook and Internet etc. It's easy to hide behind your devices and your hangups and what's "in" right now, but honestly there's nothing more validating than knowing exactly who you are and what you believe in.
You’ve been criticized by gay activists for your decision to go to the Olympics given Russian LGBT law. How do you stay strong when so many people have opinions about your choices?
I support the Olympic movement wholeheartedly. I watched my family sacrifice for my dream, I lived a very abnormal childhood for my dream, and I would support an Olympic Games held anywhere because it is my life.
I have received a lot of hate given my stance on Russia, a country I love to visit and whose history and culture I admire. I even speak, read, and write Russian. I believe that my presence is necessary on the ground, in Russia, to show the LGBT community that I support them.
I am a passive activist in some ways, but aggressive activism is not something I am capable of. I believe in myself, my morals and my abilities and I know that the ways I choose to help are possible for me to accomplish, so any negativity sent to me is washed over immediately. I have no time for people who choose to use negativity as their weapons. I use love and acceptance. For every one person bullying me, there is one less person to terrorize another and for that cause, I am always strong.
Any favorite inspirational quotes or sayings?
"He stood on the brink of a mighty stream, and stood and dreamt a mighty dream." — Pushkin
We’re a wellness website so I gotta ask: do you practice yoga?
I prefer pilates but I have done yoga a few times. I love it and I love the lifestyle aspect of yoga, but for me pilates is more exciting and entertaining. Being a figure skater, looking for an exercise routine that can compete with the glamour and difficulty of what I do as my job has been difficult, but I definitely found it in pilates.
Green juice or smoothies?
What’s next after Sochi?
I'll perform in Russia for a month and a half, followed by Japan and China throughout the summer. I love skating and performing. I've actually prepared a new performance to a Bollywood piece which I'm itching to show the world!
Aside from skating, I am working on some very special multimedia projects and taking acting classes as well as brushing up on my Russian grammar with a private tutor. I am also starting to draft a book idea about style, living, and sport.