Johnny Weir Retires from Skating, Joins NBC for the Sochi Olympics
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Two-time Olympic and three-time U.S. national men’s champion figure skater Johnny Weir formally announced his retirement from competitive skating on national TV Thursday. Weir, who has written a weekly column for the past year exclusively for the Falls Church (Virginia) News-Press, made his announcement on NBC’sTodayshow Thursday morning and elaborated in his column. Weir also announced that he has been retained by NBC as a commentator on skating events it covers, including at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next February.
Weir, at 29, past the prime for most figure skaters, cited his age as the basis for his retirement. He was the center of controversy when he, as an openly gay person, was at odds with gay activists who wanted a boycott of the Sochi Olympics because of Russia’s new anti-gay laws. He picked up an ally on that subject last week whenStar Treklegend and now gay activist George Takei shared his view in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. But Weir said Thursday he will go to cover the Sochi Olympics for NBC, despite the risk of running afoul of Russian anti-gay laws, to be “in full support of our brothers and sisters there.”
Johnny Weir’s column about his retirement in theFalls Church News-Pressis below without edits.
—Photo: Stacy McReynolds
Seventeen years ago it was freezing. Seventeen years ago they were all snowed in by a terrible blizzard. Seventeen years ago in Amish country Pennsylvania, if there was a blizzard, you weren’t getting out of your house for at least a week because the land was forgotten by snow plows and salt trucks. Seventeen years ago a sunny day came along where the ice that covered a bleak cornfield glistened in the late afternoon sun. Seventeen years ago, my feet were covered for the first time by leather and steel. Seventeen years ago, I took my first step onto the ice, in the most unlikely of circumstances, yet dressed head to toe in dreams.
For seventeen years I have watched as my family and those closest to me have sacrificed, prayed and applauded my journey. As a young person, I was able to connect on a very real level with my mother as I watched her see things that a girl from Oxford, Pennsylvania wouldn’t normally ever have the chance to see. I watched her eyes light up the first time she saw Red Square, I got to see the way her mouth puckered when she tasted her first French crepe, I watched her glasses fog up when we ascended the Great Wall of China and we shared a disconcerting walk late at night through a tunnel in Banska Bystrica,Slovakia. My mom hugged me through fences, cried with me over good and bad, and audible maybe only to me, screamed every time I took the ice. Until now, I’d never told her I could hear her because I didn’t want her to stop. I had the incredible gift of showing my mother the world and working hard to give her a son she could be proud of.
My brother and father watched from the sidelines for a long time as my mom and I jetted around the world. Attending funerals we couldn’t, enjoying ski vacations while mama and I were in Norway, and raising the dogs we all got as a family, just so I could chase a dream that was so unfathomable to everyone but us. Figure skating stole a lot of my childhood, and it also robbed me much of the joy in helping to raise my little brother. My father has had health issues that I could never truly understand as I was never around enough to console him or help him around the house. Though I grew up loving the men in my family, and having them love me, we never got to know each other as grown-ups.
In Vancouver at my second Olympic Games, after having been present to see my first Olympics in Torino, my father and brother cheered me on, cursed the judges for not doing enough for me and my little brother couldn’t even stay in the building because he so proud of me and so hurt for me. In a weird way, figure skating showed me what true love is.
In my coaches I found a different love, a different inspiration. In addition to raising me in some ways off the ice, teaching me to drive or teaching me to make a proper Russian dinner, my coaches taught me about self-confidence, believing in myself and they taught me that hard work and dedication to a gift that for some is God-given and for others comes only from hard work, will only end in pride. Throughout my career I have broken my coaches hearts more than anyone else in my life with failures or growing pains and possibly by never quite knowing how to say thank you for giving me the world. Though one coach taught me until I was a young man, and the other helped me in the later stages of both our competitive careers, their knowledge and dedication to my growth is something you find so you rarely when both your successes are hinged together in some cosmic way, and not only was I lucky enough to find that working relationship twice, I was able to find twice and laced with love.
It is surreal writing about my career as if it had happened to someone else and to actually write the words, “I am retiring from competitive figure skating”. I have cried my way through writing this entire column not because I am sad, or that I’ll miss training or falling or being so nervous I thought my head would explode, or starving or the glory of victory or the agony of defeat, I cry because of the memories that have shaped my life. I am sad about those moments awaiting scores that will catapult me to my first national title and finally believing in myself, or navigating a foreign airport with my mom and aunt. I will miss traveling the world with a crazy group of skaters, coaches, judges, fans and the like, who all want to see a good, clean fight, a worthy champion and to stop for a moment to appreciate the power of the moments you create together. Although not always a fan of the figure skating world, they are my high school peers, my college frat brothers, my friends, supporters and confidants and I will miss them.
At twenty-nine, it is odd to explain to the average Joe that I am retiring. While my retirement surely isn’t a shock to the skating world, I have been able to become a sort of face for my sport to people who rarely watch it, and I always quickly follow up the statement of “I’m retiring from competition” with the truth that I will continue to skate and perform as long as my body will allow me and that I pass my presence in the competitive ranks on to some genius upstart, the youth that keeps the Olympics and sports alive. While I am not old, part of being a champion is knowing when your time is up.
Seventeen years have passed since I first set foot on the ice. I have fallen thousands of times, rotated millions of rotations and been called everything from a “national treasure” to “a disgrace”. I have lived enough to fill many lifetimes and been afforded more opportunities than even the greatest businessmen and celebrities. I’ve won and lost and through it all I have never lost sight of who I am or what I want from this world which I believe to be the greatest achievement in my young life. Seventeen years ago, it’s hard to say exactly how, but I knew my life would have some magic, and I have figure skating to thank for that. I wish for everyone in this world to have even one moment of finding their bliss and chasing after it at all costs and I pray that you are lucky enough to even have two of those moments, because they are fleeting and sometimes unappreciated.
I started this story seventeen years ago on a frozen cornfield and while my story is far from over, this chapter is. I will never stop searching for my spot in the stars, I will never forget the places I’ve been or the people I’ve met. I will never forget where I’ve come from. It will be a long time until I wake up in the morning not imagining that I’m late for practice, and in addition to never forgetting the sheer magic of giving my heart and soul to the world, I will never forget the smell of the air, the glint of the sun on the slippery surface, or the feelings I had seventeen years ago on that cornfield.
Thank you for the memories.