Photo Credit: Sundance Channel
Can't wait for the ice-skating showdowns at the 2010 Winter Olympics? The opening ceremonies on NBC don't take place until Feb. 12, but one cable network is offering a riveting broadcast to tide you over. The Sundance Channel's eight-part documentary series, Be Good Johnny Weir (Mondays, 10:30 p.m. ET), is now underway, tracing Weir's outlandish route to the 2010 games.
In case you're not a super-savvy skating fanatic, Pennsylvania native Johnny Weir is a three-time U.S. figure skating champ who competed (but didn't medal) at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Yet he's probably most famous for his costumes and his cult following. "He totally, like, goes to the next extreme," says clothing designer Richie Rich, interviewed at a fashion show where Weir strutted the catwalk. "It's not only art and talent and athleticism, it's also, like, his personality. He's like a pop star on ice."
Androgynous, eccentric, and outspoken, 26-year-old Weir lets Sundance capture his every move. The camera crew is even invited into his bathroom -- where Weir and his best friend, Paris, are seemingly naked in a grimy tub full of bubbles. (For the record, Weir doesn't call Paris his boyfriend: "We're like a married couple without the sex," he says.) Wearing a blond, girly wig, Weir role-plays as a sports reporter, pelting proudly effeminate Paris with questions.
Make no mistake: Weir is out and frequently flamboyant -- kind of like a Rufus Wainwright on skates. He loves to talk makeup (Laura Mercier's his favorite brand), has posed for magazines in tights and heels, and his voice can be overheard, outside his bedroom, telling Paris, "My ass looks gargantuan." The two strut and vogue up and down the hallway, as if to dare viewers to judge them.
Weir's fearless, too, in talking about his sport. At one event, after a competitor makes the usual, humble, boilerplate comments to the press, Weir tells it like it is. "If I had a choice, I would never, ever, ever do any of these spins," he says, flashbulbs bursting around him. "I feel like they're ugly. They take away a chance for people to be different, and that's a problem… You want beautiful, clean skating. You don't want all these elements packed together."
"The rules are the rules, and you need to play by them," said one veteran Olympian, in a follow-up interview. Of course, that view is shared by the USFS president and judges, and Weir's had a rocky relationship with the skating establishment -- and with his rival, Evan Lysacek, who tires of Weir's antics (and no doubt resents the attention Weir gets as a result of them).
For all this skater's phenomenal talent, he has yet to become an Olympic or World champion. Some people conjecture that his outsize personality stands in the way of true greatness. "He can do anything," says Carolanne Leone, his trainer. "There's just something stopping him. We all think we know what it is. But only Johnny knows what it is."
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