Johnny Weir’s skating overshadowed by his costumes


Johnny Weir always has been comfortable in his skin, especially if it is an oilskin corset with a pink shoulder tassel, a pink stripe down an arm and pink laces across the chest like the one he wore for Friday’s short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

“I felt very diva tonight,” Weir said after finishing third, putting himself in excellent position to make a second straight Olympic team with Sunday’s free skate.

Only once since Weir won his first of three U.S. titles in 2004 has the diva persona not fit, even if there often was a palpable disconnect between the classical skater and the avant-garde showman who never hides his light under a tassel, who never apologized -- or needed to -- for anything he did on or off the ice.

At last year’s nationals, Weir rationalized his fifth-place finish by pointing out he had been very sick after an ill-advised long trip for an ice show in Korea, a trip he made despite having been ill before going. It cost him a world team spot for the first time since 2003 and had him ready to quit until convinced by his mother he would regret it.

“It’s absolutely a revenge for me to come back and be strong,” Weir said.

And he is back, as witty and unfettered as before, the star of an eight-part documentary he promises will raise eyebrows when it debuts Monday on the Sundance Channel, the most engaging personality in skating. Not even a whalebone corset could hold Weir.

“To sum up my idea of on-ice costume fashion sense, it’s probably that too much is never enough,” Weir said.

But not long ago, there was a balance in the contrast between the compelling, understated elegance of Weir’s skating and the too-too costumes he prefers while admitting they can look tacky.

He could say he looked like a “care bear on acid” in one costume, “an icicle on coke” in another and call a glove he wore “Camille” (after the composer, Saint-Saens). The jokes and self-parody were even better because Weir was winning national titles in the garish attire.

The balance has tipped toward shtick, as Weir’s skating lacks the sparkle he loves on costumes. He performed with such caution in the short program the only remarkable thing about it was his looking pretty in pink.

It is as if Weir now can let go only with the accouterments, not the essence. The point he was most eager to make about Sunday’s free skate is he will be wearing fur, PETA supporters be damned. His answer to their angry letters: an autographed postcard on which he draws a chipmunk with Xs on its eyes.

In the promo for the Sundance show, “Be Good Johnny Weir,” he emerges from a gilded egg and says, “When I’m good, I’m good, and when I’m bad, I’m better.”

Too much. So much it has become easy to forget that Weir was second in the 2006 Olympic short program before losing a medal with a poor free skate. He no longer seems to have the goods to win an Olympic medal: Weir finished third in the recent Grand Prix Final, but that field lacked four of the world’s top skaters.

Sometimes, too much may not be enough.