The figure skater Johnny Weir, donning his controversial crown of roses at the Vancouver Olympics
Chicago gets two chances to catch Weir live. Take that, Stars on Ice!
CELEBS Is he or isn't he too . . . ahem . . . spangly for a family show? That's the question once again glittering around two-time Olympic skater and three-time U.S. national champion Johnny Weir in the latest figure skating hissy fit over his masculinity or lack thereof. There's little doubt that Johnny likes pretty costumes. At this year's Vancouver Olympics, he rocked a black corset (pictured, right) crisscrossed with pink laces and festooned with a pink shoulder tassels—and sparkles. Oh, the sparkles. Later, his giggly appearance in the "kiss-and-cry" after his long program—his head wreathed in a swirling crown of red roses given to him by a fan—prompted the Canadian skater Patrick Chan to sniff that Weir was being "unprofessional." Meow.
Word comes now, however, that Weir has been frozen out by Stars on Ice—the premier figure skating tour in the United States coming to Allstate Arena on May 5th—and the skater claims his exclusion is because he's not "family friendly." A fan favorite, Weir certainly has the credentials and the star power. (How many figure skaters have their own reality show, as Weir does on the Sundance Channel? Answer: zero.)
So, Weir wonders, what's the tour's problem? "I'm not going to get on the ice and strip down naked and roll around," he told CNN. "I know I'm a bit outrageous at times and I say what's on my mind, but I don't understand how that isn't family friendly in any way." For its part, the tour, a hugely lucrative gig for Olympic skaters sponsored by Smuckers, insists that sexual preference did not play into its decision and that there simply wasn't room in the show for Weir.
The broader context for the Weir kerfuffle is this cyclical phenomenon in figure skating, in which every few years the Powers That Be try to suppress the sport's image as a "gay sport" to make it more palatable to the masses. I think the Evan Lysacek-Yevgeny Plushenko "quad" controversy was part of that: Plushenko basically called Lysacek a wussy for not trying the quad—like, you're one of those gay-boy skaters if you don't do it.
Well, cinch your own corsets, Chicago. Over the next couple of weeks, the area will have two chances to judge for itself. On Saturday, March 20th at 7:30 p.m., Weir will make a special appearance at Oak Lawn Ice Arena as part of a youth figure skating competition. Then, on Thursday, April 1st at 7 p.m., he will skate at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville with 100 local skaters as part of Ice Dreams, a show also featuring two-time men's national champion Jeremy Abbott, and the reigning ladies national champion, Rachel Flatt.
Having recently become an accidental figure skater myself (see Ice Folly, the story I wrote for the December 2009 issue of Chicago about how I stumbled into this obsession ) and one with a deep aversion to all things sequin-y, I view the whole thing as, well, silly. Weir is simply a joy to watch skate, a truly gifted athlete with that rare combination of artistry and power that makes the sport so compelling.
So go. It won't be the glam event at Allstate Arena, which will feature Weir's rival, the Olympic champion and Naperville native, Evan Lysacek, along with Sasha Cohen and the Olympic bronze medalist from Canada, Joannie Rochette. But that's a good thing. Weir brings his own glam. While you're at it, bring the family.
GO: Mar 20, 7:30 p.m. $20. Oak Lawn Ice Arena, 9320 S Kenton, 708-857-5173.
A GOOD, RELEVANT LINK
- Icenetwork.com is a clearinghouse blog for fans of figure skating.
photographs: (top AND Right) Paul Drinkwater/NBC; (headshot) Justin Lubin/NBC