Ice Network

Personal issues in rearview, Weir busier than ever

Wylie returns to ice for first time at 'EWC' after suffering cardiac arrest
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Johnny Weir was the opening and closing skater at the 45th edition of 'An Evening with Champions,' performing programs to 'Carmen' and Radiohead's "Creep." -Sarah S. Brannen

When Johnny Weir makes public appearances, he usually wears avant-garde ensembles, outrageous hairstyles and elaborate makeup. Coming off the ice after 45 minues of hard skating -- cheeks flushed from the cold, skin makeup free, hair neatly combed back -- he still looks like an elite athlete.

Weir was in Boston this past weekend headlining An Evening With Champions at Harvard University. He caused a stir of excitement wherever he went. Even at the "Kids Skate," where the cast took the ice for some recreational skating with young cancer patients and survivors, most of the parents and children were angling for the opportunity to take a photo with Weir. He obliged -- always warm and friendly to his fans, Weir seems to thrive on their adoration and support.

Once the kids left, the cast stayed behind to train or enjoy themselves. Several skaters did simultaneous double axels. Weir didn't take part in the fun, instead working hard on his routines and even staying an extra 15 minutes after the singles skaters left and the Haydenettes took the ice for their practice. Once off the ice, he unlaced his skates and sat in a physical therapy room backstage to chat about skating, NBC commentary work and a life lived in the public eye.

"My life off the ice is so busy with different entertainment projects," Weir said. "There's a lot that my team and I haven't disclosed to the public. There are things coming up that are really exciting. I am hoping there will be some very big announcements in the next little while."

Weir wasn't ready to go into detail about what the announcements would be, but he did drop a few hints.

"I filmed my first big movie this year, and it was so exciting and so amazing," he said.

Weir spent several weeks in Japan and China over the summer with various show tours. He had to prepare four different programs, including the two he performed in Boston to Carmen and "Creep." He'll do two more programs with Nancy Kerrigan's Halloween on Ice tour this fall. He will then tour with Evgeni Plushenko in November and compete in the Medal Winners Open in Japan in January; the latter will require a new competitive program.

Carmen, created in response to a fan vote, was a collaboration with Drew Meekins. Weir created "Creep," and all the other programs himself, using his iPhone or iPad.

"I spend most of my time alone on the ice," Weir said. "I don't work with choreographers or trainers at the moment, but I video everything that I do so that I can go back afterward and correct it and see what things look like. So Siri, I suppose, has been coaching me for the past year or so. My rinks in Delaware give me free rein of the ice at nighttime."

In "Creep," Weir skates in a long black skirt and finger gloves in what seems to be an embrace of his reputation for oddity. The Radiohead song's refrain includes the lines "I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo."

"'Creep' is very special to me because I love that song," he said. "'I don't belong here' is the last line. Not in a sad way -- I mean, I certainly belong on the ice. I feel it, and it's so emotional. Honestly, I had this skirt that I wanted to wear, and it sort of begat the program."

Although he's skating a lot at the moment, Weir might curtail his schedule.

"I don't know how long I'll be able to keep the quality of my performances," he mused. "As I get older and as skating becomes more difficult, I want to be sure that I can skate on a level where I would accept watching that performance. I don't want to be one of those skaters that sort of shows up for a paycheck and diddles around on the ice."

Weir hastily backtracked, not meaning to imply he will ever stop skating completely.

"I hope I can skate forever, and I think I will -- just on my own time, for exercise," he explained. "It's amazing when I can't always get to a gym or something, there's ice; I can always skate and get a full workout in an hour."

Weir is working on getting into top shape for the Medal Winners Open, which is scored using the international judging system.

"Last year, I was disappointed with my performance in that competition," said Weir, who finished fourth in a field of six. "I want to do better this year, so I'll skate more!"

Weir occasionally acts as a consultant, in a minor capacity, to competitive skaters on their programs. He worked with Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus last year on expression in their free dance. He says he's not doing much more than that, and he doesn't see himself coaching or choreographing in the future.

"I've done occasional one-off work with some skaters; helped them with costuming," Weir said. "Natalia Linichuk did me the biggest honor by asking me to come down every week to work with her dance teams. But I told her that wasn't really possible because I'm a commentator and it's a conflict of interest for me to work with skaters and then talk about them. Tara [Lipinski] and I…have to be as unbiased as possible if the audience is going to buy us as commentators.

"I have a lot of ideas, and there are a lot of things that I can see for other skaters, whether it's costuming, makeup, packaging, jumps or technique. But as far as taking somebody from never been on the ice before to Olympic champion, I don't have a passion for it and I would never want to pretend that I did. I haven't gotten the itch yet to be completely devoted to sitting in an ice rink again every day. It's not something that's enjoyable to me."

As for the other aspects of Weir's life -- from red carpet appearances to the Kentucky Derby, the Oscars, and the Super Bowl -- he admits that when he was young, he had hoped to be famous someday.

"I always wanted people to know who I was and what I did and to respect that," Weir said. "Through my skating, or my commentary, or my public persona, the majority of people who know who I am respect me, and that's something that's really important to me. I'm certainly not a Kardashian, and I would never want to be, with paparazzi outside everywhere that you go. That level of fame is not interesting to me."

Weir admits that there are some negatives to life in the public eye, as became brutally clear during an ugly divorce last year.

"The only downside is when I'm going through rough things in my personal life," he said. "I've had to crunch down on the people around me, simply because it's hard to trust people after you've been burned."

He sees the irony of having bad experiences with media while working for a major television network at the same time.

"I sort of trust media as far as I can throw them, and at the same time I am media," he said. "So, I live this very double standard in my life, but I love it. I'm totally aware of everything in my life that is ridiculous and doesn't make sense, but I wouldn't have it any other way."

With the personally difficult year receding into the past, Weir seems to be in a better place emotionally, in addition to enjoying a lot of success in his professional career. He says he and Lipinski have been hard at work ever since the end of last season, studying every competition and every up-and-coming skater as they prepare for the 2015-16 broadcast season.

"My life is solid," he said. "I can't say that I'm necessarily happy, but I'm working really hard and I love what I do. Every day I wake up pleased that I have something to work on, I have somewhere to go, I've got something to distract me. I spend very little time at home, and I'm away from my dog a lot, which upsets me.

"Mostly, I'm busy. After I had issues in my personal life, I decided to devote myself entirely to throwing myself back into my work and really doing a good job. This summer, I've been studying everything that's happening, so I'm prepared to bring skating back to America on NBC this year. My life is good."

The show

Weir was the star of the show, and the audience greeted both of his programs with enormous enthusiasm. The other major highlight was Paul Wylie, who not only hosted but performed a program for the first time since he nearly died last spring after a sudden cardiac arrest. Skating to "Here's to Life," Wylie showed off all of the elegant style that has made him a fan favorite for nearly 30 years. He wears a pacemaker now, but it didn't prevent him from doing an axel and his trademark blur spin.

After the show, Wylie said that he had decided to skate a couple of weeks ago and had only cut the music the day before.

"I had wanted to skate to that song for a long time, since Kitty and Peter [Carruthers] skated to it," he said. "It's just a sentiment that I feel right now. I want to be free to skate to something that I feel instead of having to worry about the double axel or something."

Wylie said that he had first skated in An Evening with Champions when he was sophomore in high school. He has hosted the show many times.

"There are so many different emotions that I've felt here," he said. "I'm thinking about the people I've met throughout my years here: the Protopopovs, some of the skaters that I grew up with, to the Harvard students that I went to school with, and certainly the cancer patients. Some of them have been incredible success stories, and then there are the kids that didn't make it. So that's where I was going with the idea of celebrating life."

Wylie admitted that he's still not completely recovered from his health scare. He had some trouble breathing for some time afterward, because the chest compressions that kept him alive after his heart stopped also bruised his ribs.

"I'm not back yet," he said in reference to his skating. "I'm scared! I get scared of things, [but] I feel like my wind is finally back a little bit. This summer was really hard for me to skate. For a while, I had a hard time breathing, but that hopefully has healed up a lot."

Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov returned after missing last year's show while Ludmila battled stomach cancer. She seems to have made a fantastic recovery, and everyone was delighted to see the two-time Olympic champions on the ice again.

"The fact that the Protopopovs came back, I really have zero excuse not to skate in the show," Wylie said. "So I was like, 'I'm going to skate, even though I don't feel ready to skate, and even though it's not quite there.'"

Four current Harvard students -- Christina Gao, Yasmin Siraj, Harrison Choate and Marina Kalina -- skated in the show, as did Kevin Shum, who just enrolled at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Nathan Chen was the standout on Friday night, landing a quad toe, triple axel, triple lutz-double toe and triple loop in his modified Michael Jackson short program. On Saturday, Alex Johnson landed a huge triple axel in his striking contemporary program to "Hideaway." Ryan Bradley did five backflips in the show on Saturday, including two back to back. Kimmie Meissner, Rachael Flatt, Emily Hughes, Cannuscio and McManus, Shotaro Omori, Ashley Cain and the Haydenettes each skated as well.