Two-time Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir’s life has always moved fast.
So when he got a call in late August to be a part of the new season of the American TV dance competition Dancing with the Stars, he was in Los Angeles within a week.
“It happened very quickly, but I am so honoured to be a part of such a beloved show and honestly, whether I win or lose, my goal is to make just one person at home laugh, or smile or be inspired,” Weir told Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview.
“The world is so ugly right now that I hope my time on DWTS can make people forget their problems and be happy.”
But Weir had to forget his fast-moving ways for several months this year as COVID-19 hit and his living-life-on-the-road schedule was curtailed.
He spent time at home, skating at his local rink in Wilmington, Delaware, hanging out with his dog, Tëma, and – in his words – learned that he’s “very good at making banana bread” all while also “validating my feelings of loving my work and entertaining people as I miss it tremendously and can’t wait to get back to it.”
Weir is a three-time U.S. champion in figure skating and mainstay on the ISU Grand Prix Series from 2004-09.
Having placed fifth at Torino 2006 and sixth at Vancouver 2010, he is more well known for his artistic expression on the ice, pushing the sport’s envelope throughout his nearly decade-long career, often pitted against his domestic rival, 2010 Olympic champ Evan Lysacek.
Now a TV commentator for NBC in the U.S. alongside Nagano 1998 gold medalist Tara Lipinski, Weir also contributes to TV coverage of the Kentucky Derby, the National Dog Show and a myriad of events, as well as remaining a mainstay on the skating show circuit, often doing appearances in Russia and Japan.
“I generally tour in the spring and summer, so this is the first year since 2005 that I’ve been able to see flowers bloom in my country,” Weir said. Skating, he said, has given him inner peace in a challenging time: “Skating is my soul, it’s a huge part of who I am and there is nowhere I feel more at home.
When the world is crumbling down around me, I still find solace on the ice, flying around to my favorite music and feeling completely free.”
Dancing onto the show's Olympic roster
Weir displayed some of that freedom on Monday (14 Sept.) when the 29th season of Dancing with the Stars debuted on American TV. The competition show pairs celebrities like Weir with professional dancers, Johnny being teamed up with Britt Stewart.
While Weir excelled in singles skating, he has since participated in group numbers for skating shows, as well as drawing from his “partner” work on TV, notably with Lipinski and NBC presenter Terry Gannon.
“(NBC commentating) is the first time I’ve happily shared my stage and I hope to carry that mentality over to DWTS,” he said. “I am looking to my pro as my partner AND my coach and I am so excited to share something so special.
I am a very loyal person, so working with one person fits my personality perfectly.”
Figure skating has a long and successful history with the show: Albertville 1992 champ Kristi Yamaguchi won Season 6 in 2008, Sochi 2014 ice dance gold medallist Meryl Davis Season 18 (2014) and PyeongChang 2018 team bronze medallist Adam Rippon Season 26 (2018).
While a myriad of Olympians have competed, including Simone Biles, Shawn Johnson and Apolo Anton Ohno, other skaters to take the DWTS stage have included Tonya Harding, Lysacek and Mirai Nagasu among others. Paralympian Amy Purdy was the Season 18 runner-up behind Davis.
“I’m very much a lone wolf when it comes to asking for advice from other people as everyone has a different journey, but Meryl Davis did reach out and told me to enjoy the process and not to focus on being perfect,” shared Weir. “Figure skaters are all perfectionists I’d say, so that was definitely good advice. Skaters have done so well on the show that I feel a lot of pressure to protect the sport’s legacy.”
Skating season: 'I hope events are held responsibly.'
Weir put on his TV analyst hat in discussing the challenging that Olympians and those hoping to qualify for Tokyo 2020 or Beijing 2022 have had to face over the last few months, with the near future still full of uncertainties.
“There really is no way to nutshell how these athletes must be feeling,” said Weir. “As an Olympian, you give your life to a niche sport that is rarely recognized or noticed and every four years you have the opportunity to write your future. You prepare and strategize and dedicate your entire life to that 15-second race or four-minute long program and it is shattering if you miss your opportunity. Sadly, there will be athletes whose time was now and it won’t be repeated, (but) there will be athletes who needed just a hair more time who will have an opportunity to change their futures.”
He continued: “One thing is certain; an Olympian becomes an Olympian for a reason and the hard work and dedication will continue as long as necessary as it is what’s required to make their dreams come true.”
Last month, the ISU announced its Grand Prix Series would move forward this fall, albeit with competition fields consisting only of athletes that are located in the country or region where said Grand Prix is set to take place to mitigate travelling. Weir said it would be a “victory” to see skaters compete while cautioning it to be done safely.
“Should there be a skating season, I’m so looking forward to seeing our sport come together in a meaningful way,” he said. “It will be a victory for the skaters simply to take the ice in competition this season and to have overcome quarantine, and closed ice rinks and do what they love. I can only hope for the skaters and their coaches, that they can be proud to be on the ice, living their dreams.”
Weir said the DWTS cast and crew are undergoing daily COVID-19 testing and temperature checks, while also remaining in quarantine away from the set. He said the protocols are complete and “fastidious,” and hopes skating will implement something similar for its pending competitions this fall.
Weir said that if he was still competing that he would partake in competitions this year, albeit cautiously.
“I would have taken every opportunity I had to skate and to compete,” he explained. “The lifespan of a high-level figure skater’s career is short at best and I would have done anything to keep my career moving forward toward the Olympics. I hope that the events are hosted responsibly and that the ISU enforces mandatory COVID testing for all athletes and team members daily. Despite my feelings of wanting to compete, I would only have done so if my safety and the safety of my fellow skaters could be guaranteed. If there are funds out there to host an event at this time, there are funds for daily testing. It is tough to show up to an event when you don’t feel ready and the world is watching you, but as long as you can compete safely and comfortably, I think it’s a good thing to get out there and remember what it feels like to compete.”
Can he win 'Dancing'?
Social distancing and safety precautions around the pandemic are something he’s passionate about.
“I don’t feel challenged by social distancing, wearing a mask or quarantining as they are the right things to do,” he said. “I get so angry when I see people not doing the right thing and extending this horrific era for us all.”
For now, safety checks and all, Weir wants to win. He’s never had any formal dance training off of the ice, so said he’s looking forward to learning a lot through the process. He also sees it as another way to help further the imprint of figure skating, which has slid in popularity in the U.S. in the last decade or so.
“As a competitor and now as a commentator, promoting my wonderful sport and the Olympic movement has always been so important to me,” he shared. “I hope my time on the show will open people up to our little slice of the world and that will people will be inspired to take up skating or to dream of going to the Olympics.
But will he win gold at TV’s ultimate dancing challenge?
“I’ll sure try,” he replied.