National Commentary

Johnny Weir Has Prevailed

bentonmug

 

Going into what may be the final competition of his figure skating career tonight at the Winter Olympics, Johnny Weir has prevailed.

With all he has gone through and suffered on account of his irrepressible, storied personality, the three-time U.S. champion, who fell from grace with an unfairly-perceived failed performance at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, is back, and tonight will be exactly where he has strived and struggled so hard for the last four years to be.

bentonmug

Going into what may be the final competition of his figure skating career tonight at the Winter Olympics, Johnny Weir has prevailed.

With all he has gone through and suffered on account of his irrepressible, storied personality, the three-time U.S. champion, who fell from grace with an unfairly-perceived failed performance at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, is back, and tonight will be exactly where he has strived and struggled so hard for the last four years to be.

The haters have lost, they and all the floods of hate mail and death threats that flowed from the 2006 Olympics. The uncompromising Johnny Weir, on the verge of the culmination of his competitive career, has won.

He is in sixth place going into tonight’s climactic free skate, from which three Olympic medals will be awarded. He’s a long shot tonight, but as his personal reaction to his performance in the short program Tuesday indicates (he was elated with his effort that left him in sixth), for him and for all he stands for, attaining the best judges’ score truly isn’t everything.

The crowds at Tuesday’s event loved Weir’s flawless program, and booed lustily when the judges’ numbers were announced. It’s typical in this cruelest of all sports, because it all hangs on the subjective judgment of a diverse team of judges, and not on the statistically-certain number of times you’ve crossed a goal line or put a ball into or through a net.

In a brilliant essay in a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, former Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes described intimately the factors that leads this columnist to consider figure skating the “cruelest sport,” something those steeped in its day-to-day demands rarely appreciate until they’ve stepped away from it for awhile.

“A minute in a skater’s program can seem like a lifetime. The cold reality of almosts, how things can almost go this way or almost go that way, often with no concrete explanation for either, live and die depending on how a 1/4-inch blade balance on a slippery surface,” Hughes wrote.

This comes after skaters “spend hours upon hours, days upon days, which turn into years and decades, training for the small sliver of a chance that they will be the one person on top of a podium at a competition that occurs once every four years.”

But Hughes also provided an eloquent description of the incredible beauty of the sport “when a performance is executed with such a refined perfection, all involved – the skater, the viewer, the crowd – are transported to figure-skating nirvana, the marriage of strength and gentleness, a place where knowing the names or technicalities of the elements all fades to a white cloud of weightlessness.”

Among the world’s best male skaters, Weir exhibits the most fluid poetry of motion, consciously elevating the sport’s artistic elements over its purely athletic ones.

But there has also been a powerful, tenacious, true grit that accounts for his success. In 2003, in his first U.S. Nationals competition as an adult, he caught his skates in a slim crack between the ice and the retaining wall, injured himself and had to withdraw less than a minute into his program. The figure skating establishment considered him washed up at the young age of 18, and banished him from inclusion in the subsequent 2003 skating season.

Weir had to fight his way back to win an invitation to the 2004 Nationals, and proceeded to win his first national title. He then won in the two following years, 2005 and, on the eve of the Turin Olympics, 2006.

The 2006 Olympics marked the first time the wider world of sports enthusiasts encountered him, and many did not take kindly to his flamboyant, outspoken manner. Thus, when he didn’t win a medal, the floodgates of hate issued forth.

Not only Weir’s perseverance, but a change in the mood of the country – reflected in the 2008 election – accounts for the fact that he’s now seen as less freaking people out, and more entertaining and enlightening them with his wit and unapologetic uniqueness.

By simply being himself in such an open and high-profile way, he creates space for countless others to venture out with their own special individuality, and in doing this, he is making his best contribution of all.


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at nfbenton@fcnp.com

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