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Weir says he's not second half of double bill

Skater says he's tired of media playing up rivalry with Lysacek

Johnny Weir talks to his coaches at U.S. Championships.
Johnny Weir talks to his coaches at U.S. Championships. (Sarah Brannen)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/06/2008) - Missing out on a fourth U.S. title by the slimmest and most controversial of margins doesn't seem to have dampened Johnny Weir's spirits. Calling his performances at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Paul this January his strongest ever at the event, the skater said he's confident the upcoming 2008 World Championships in Gothenburg will be his best yet.

"I can of course see myself as the world champion, because what's the point of going to the competition if you don't think you can win it? I've had a strong season so far, and I'm hoping to finish it on a high note and show everyone what just one year of hard work can do for you."

Although the three-time U.S. champion (2004-06) scored wins at Cup of China and Cup of Russia this fall, his fame and talent have arguably outstripped his worlds' results. Weir's highest finish was fourth in 2005; last season, he was a dispirited eighth, his lowest placement ever.

This time around, he's hoping for far better things.

"The nationals result was very unexpected, to be such a drama," he said. "Emotionally, physically and mentally I just needed to step back and decide what the best plan of action would be going into the world championships, because I plan on bringing home a medal."

In Saint Paul, a controversy involving the scoring calculation sent internet skating sites ablaze for days. (Evan Lysacek and Weir tied with 244.77 points, but Lysacek took the title by winning the free skate by 1.35 points.) Still, Weir claimed he hadn't given the matter much thought.

"I can happily say I still don't know if I deserve to be national champion because I haven't seen Evan's performance," he said.

"The only thing that kind of upset me a little bit was when I was walking back towards the locker room and so many people were like, 'Oh, you should have won, you were robbed.' And I had no idea if I was or wasn't. Some officials came up and said, 'You only lost by one edge change [in a spin] or by a single toe loop jump.' That is definitely not the way I want to remember that national championship because I thought I did a fantastic job."

Still, there's been a bit of tweaking to Weir's choreography. An upright spin, the eighth element of his free program to Yoav Goren's "Love and War," has been changed to a combination spin. Weir and his coach, Galina Zmievskaya, believe it will earn a level 4. His third jump combination -- which he omitted in Saint Paul -- took on added importance.

"[At nationals] the Lutz combination was just a triple, double and it should have been triple, double, double," he said. "I was thinking going in to the flip, maybe I should do this as a three-jump combination. I suppose I was thinking about that too much. I had a bad landing on the triple flip and it was impossible.

"Technically, I think I'm strong right now, strong enough to do all of these combinations. I definitely want to work harder so that there is no contest. I don't want to be tying my main rival at any competition."

The skater traveled today from his home base in New Jersey to Moscow, where he and coaches Zmievskaya and 1992 Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko will train before heading for Gothenburg on March 18th.

"I'm excited to be away from my home area; I love Russia so much it will be very inspirational to be there before the world championships," he said.

"Also, the time zone is much closer to that of Sweden and it's a good thing to do to get acclimated. Life is very different in Europe than in the U.S. and I want to feel as comfortable as I can going in to this worlds."

While Weir cited Sergei Voronov, Tomas Verner, Brian Joubert, Stephane Lambiel and Daisuke Takahashi as medal possibilities, if Takahashi gains the kind of score he achieved at the Four Continents Championship last month, the event could well be open and shut.

The Japanese champion racked up an astounding 264.41 points, the most ever awarded under the International Judging System. He included two quads and two triple Axels in a spectacular free program to music from Romeo and Juliet, easily defeating reigning Olympic bronze medalist Jeff Buttle and Lysacek, who placed second and third respectively.

"Everyone has had really highs and lows this season except for Takahashi, so going into it I'm eying Takahashi as the favorite," Weir admitted.

For the second time this season, the skater plans to try the quadruple toe loop in his free program, a move he has never landed cleanly in competition. (At the 2008 U.S. Championships, Weir earned 7.71 points for a two-footed attempt in his free, and won the short program without a quad.)

"There is good evidence coming from Four Continents that you may not need a quad to win the short program," Weir reasoned.

"Evan [who executed a quad combination] was defeated by Takahashi, who did a triple-triple combination. So my goal is to skate a clean short with maximum levels on all my elements, and set myself up for a good long program where I will hopefully land the quad and everything will be merry."

One thing Weir can look forward to: win or lose in Gothenburg, he won't only be compared to Lysacek.

"Certain networks in the U.S. want Evan and I to be at every competition together just to make some kind of television ratings," he said. "Sometimes I get upset that we have to be double-billed like the heroines of the Chicago musical just because we are at the same level and competing for the same country. . . There are so many differences as far as our personalities go.

"I was Johnny Weir long before I knew who Evan Lysacek was, and I'll be Johnny Weir long after we're done with our competitive careers.

"I'm not the second half of a double billing."