Archive for the ‘johnny weir’ Tag

jcm’s USFS Nationals’ Podium Predictions

Chime in with your own predictions! If you wish to take part in my Olympics’ Podium Predictions Contest, click here.

Ladies

(2 berths)

1. Rachael Flatt
2. Sasha Cohen
3. Ashley Wagner

IF Sasha withdraws:

1. Rachael Flatt
2. Ashley Wagner
3. Alissa Czisny

Although Sasha has confirmed her attendance as recently as last week, I’m providing a backup plan, as I’m still suspicious. If she competes, I predict her jumps will be sketchy as always, but her artistry and spirals will elevate her past Ashley. I love Alissa, and über-rooted for her at ’09 Worlds in LA. But, since she effectively lost our third spot there, I feel she had her shot (as well as her moment as Nationals’ Champion), and will karmically sit this one out.

Men’s

(3 berths)

1. Evan Lysacek
2. Johnny Weir
3. Jeremy Abbott

I think Evan has just been too consistent and confident to rule out, despite my biases (see below). Although Jeremy has more scoring potential than Johnny, I give Johnny the edge because of his season thus far. With Ryan Bradley & Brandon Mroz threatening to unleash a gauntlet of quads (ie: planning 3 quads each!) they could really shake things up, but I’m not betting on it. I don’t think Adam Rippon will get control of his 3A enough this time, but he will easily reign in the next Olympic season. And, Stephen Carriere has seemingly faded as a real threat.

Pairs

(2 berths)

1. McLaughlin & Brubaker (McBru”)
2. Denney & Barrett
3. Inoue & Baldwin

McBru will get on top of their programs enough to eek out another Nationals’ title. Denney & Barrett will play second fiddle this one LAST time. And, Inoue & Baldwin will just miss making the Olympic team. Although I salute their staying power and persistence, I don’t root for them this time, whether they land their throw 3A, or not. I just don’t think they have Olympic podium potential anymore, even on their best day.

Ice Dance

(3 berths)

1. Davis & White (Marlie”)
2. Belbin & Agosto
3. Samuelson & Bates

It’s becoming clearer and clearer, this may be Marlie’s first time to wrestle the Nationals’ crown from Belbin & Agosto in a head-to-head. Samuelson & Bates technical skating (ie: twizzles and speed) will land them bronze, a rung down from last season’s result. Fresh from Juniors, the Shibutanis and Chock & Zuerlein could shake things up for the bronze medal!

Wish List

These are my personal favs, and special requests.:

Flatt: to become a first-time Nationals’ Champion, and make the Olympic team
Weir: to become a four-time Nationals’ Champion, or at least get to Olympics
Abbott: to skate his best this season, and make the Olympic team
Jonathan Cassar: to get some tv air time, and be introduced to skating viewers
Denney & Barrett: to become first-time Nationals’ Champions
Navarro & Bommetre: to make the Olympic team (fingers crossed!)

Skaters Who Blew Through the Technical Ceiling

We can all recall witnessing those mind-blowing moments, when we thought that skaters had finally hit the technical ceiling, or reached the outer extremes of what their sport would allow, and yet they managed to push past it again!

Sonja Henie’s “herstoric” first single axel, and Dick Button’s historic first triple jump (3Lo) seem like child’s play now. The technical achievements, primarily in jumping, aren’t the only thing that keeps me watching this sport, but truth be told, they are one damn good reason. I notice that anymore I can hardly get through a televised professional skating show, from start to finish. Apart from their over-produced, cookie-cutter feel, they also lack the on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrill that these competitive elements offer. There is of course a downside to the big jumps and constant raising of the technical bar, and that is the toll that takes on a skater’s body, sometimes shortening a career (case in point: Lipinski and Yagudin), but even more simply, robbing the audience of clean programs.

I could find no single online link that detailed the jumping “firsts” and records of the last three decades, so I created one! What’s so striking about this listing is that it calls out how rapidly our sport changes. Surely, the rate of these new developments will have to slow, as there are some absolute limitations, barring technological interference (more like those seen in today’s competitive cycling and swimming). The 10 year gap between Midori Ito’s and Ludmila Neledina’s triple axels may be evidence enough that this slowing has already begun. [Click here for a jump abbreviation legend.]

Quad Firsts


1988 – Kurt Browning (CAN): single quad (4T, with a three-turn on the landing: Worlds). Neither Alexandr Fadeev’s quad (’84 Olympics) nor Josef Sabovcik’s quad (’86 Europeans) were ratified, due to flawed landings.

1994 – Min Zhang (CHN): clean quad at the Olympics.

1997 – Guo Zhengxin (CHN): two quads in one program (4T + 4T/2T: Worlds). These were also the first single quad, and quad combo in one program.

1998 & ’99 – Timothy Goebel (USA): quad salchow (’98 JGPF); three quads in one program (’99 Skate America)

2001 – Sasha Cohen (USA): documented ladies’ quad in practice (4S: Skate America).

2002 – Miki Ando (JPN, age 15): ladies’ quad (4S: Jr. Worlds). Surya Bonaly’s quad toe (’91 Worlds) sadly was underrotated.

Also notable:

2006, Brian Joubert (FRA): three quads in one program (4T/2T + 4S + 4T: Cup of Russia). [I have heard this wrongly cited by commentators as the first time.]

A comprehensive listing of notable quads: Wikipedia

Ladies’ Triple Axel Firsts


1988 – Midori Ito (JPN): single triple axel (NHK Trophy). [She landed 18 total triple axels in competition. See her land 10 double axels in a row here.]

1991 – Tonya Harding (USA): two triple axels (SP & LP) in one competition (Skate America). The SP 3A was the first ladies’ 3A combination (+ 2Lo).

1992 – Midori Ito: triple axel at the Olympics.

2008 – Mao Asada (JPN): two triple axels in one program (GPF).

For ladies, a 3A is still notable, as only six have landed them in competition, including these three others: Yukari Nakano (JPN), Ludmila Neledina (RUS), and Kimmie Meissner (USA). Yes, there’s even a video collection of them.

Jump Combination Firsts


1981 – Midori Ito (age 12): ladies’ triple/triple (3T/3T: Jr. Worlds).

1990 & ’91 – Kurt Browning: triple salchow/triple loop (’90 Nations Cup); three triple/triples in the same program (3A/3T + 3F/3T + 3S/3Lo: ’91 Worlds).

1991 – Elvis Stojko (CAN): quad/double (4T/2T: Worlds).

1996 – Eric Millot (FRA): triple loop/triple loop (Worlds).

1997 – Elvis Stojko: quad/triple (4T/3T: GPF)

1998 – Timothy Goebel: American quad/double (4S/2T: JGPF).

2001 & ’02 Evgeni Plushenko (RUS): quad/triple/triple (4T/3T/3Lo: ’02 Cup of Russia, and three times since). According to Wikipedia, he supposedly landed a four jump combo at ’01 Worlds (4T/3T/2Lo/2Lo), and a six jump combo in his EX at Europeans (3/3/2/2/2/2), but no posted videos verify this (the ’04 CoP now restricts combos to a max of three jumps). [It is estimated that he has landed over 100 quads in competition.]

Also notable (and possible firsts):

1998 – Tara Lipinski (USA, age 15): triple loop/triple loop + triple toe/half loop/triple salchow in one program (Olympics).

2002 – Sarah Hughes (USA) two triple/triple loops in one program (3S/3Lo + 3T/3Lo: Olympics).

2004 – Shizuka Arakawa (JPN) two triple combos in one program (3Lz/3T/2Lo + 3S/3T: Worlds). She also landed a 3/3/3 in practice!

More Ito, Pairs’ Firsts, & Spin Records


1984 & ’89 – Midori Ito: first woman in competition to land five major jumps (’84), and six major jumps (’89).

2003 – Lucinda Ruh (SUI): Guinness World Record for the most continuous spins (115) on one foot (NY).

2006 – Rena Inoue & John Baldwin, Jr. (USA): throw triple axel (US Nationals, and Olympics)

2007 – Natalia Kanounnikova (RUS): Guinness World Record for fastest spin (308 rpm) recorded on ice (Rockefeller Plaza)

2007 – Tiffany Vise & Derek Trent (USA): throw quad salchow (Trophée Eric Bompard). However, I believe Wikipedia may again be wrong, as Zhang & Zhang (CHN) appear to also have landed an earlier 4STh (’06 National Games).

The Future?


2007 – Weir & Galindo (USA): same sex throw triple axel (Champions on Ice, practice); 2009 - Weir & Lambiel (SUI): same sex 3ATh (practice)

2009 – Evgeni Plushenko: triple axel/quad toe loop attempt (practice)

[My sources are not infallible, so I welcome informed corrections.]

GP Final: A Look Back

Kudos to Team USA on an historic first GP Final gold medal in Ice Dance for Davis & White, an historic three men competing, with TWO landing on the podium (Evan Lysacek, gold; and Johnny Weir, bronze), and Ashley Wagner holding on to the pewter with a strong LP.

Pairs

I’m very amused that Kavaguti (partner of Smirnov) apparently returned to the surname Kawaguchi, at least while in Japan (“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”?). Perhaps she’s trying to avoid getting tarred and feathered in her homeland? Have you ever watched her in the kiss-‘n-cry? She appears so vacant, and I can never tell if she’s going to burst into tears or laughter.

I really wish Szolkowy hadn’t touched down in the SP. This, and the fact that they (he and Savchenko) didn’t skate their best in the LP, robbed us of an apples-to-apples comparison to Shen & Zhao. Have you heard any scoop if Savchenko and coach Ingo Steuer are a couple? I’ve been getting that vibe in the kiss-‘n-cry lately, but haven’t seen it qualified anywhere.

I wept watching Shen & Zhao’s LP. Their comeback is the most beautiful gift to this sport. They just have an ability to tug my heartstrings, and their “Adagio” LP really milks that. Perhaps their off-ice love imbues their skating with that extra something special.

It was nice to see Mukhortova & Trankov deliver two very strong, clean performances. Zhang & Zhang just seem to be languishing. Now is the time for them to RETURN to a program from a past season to salvage this more important Olympic season. And, something to keep the focus on their athleticism, and off their (mostly her) artistic and expressive deficiencies.

I predicted the correct teams on the podium, just in the wrong order. Not too bad, although very predictable.

Ice Dance

To my eye, Virtue & Moir should have come out on top both after the OD and FD, but this is the one discipline where the most subtle nuances between a performance or team often elude me, or feel highly subjective, because they are so comparable. Davis & White appeared more controlled in the OD, skating with less abandon, but that may just be the nature of an indian dance, versus a spanish flamenco number, which has inherent abandon. I understand that D&W may have skated with greater speed, but that is harder to perceive on tv, since the cameras trace the movement.

However, enormous accolades to D&W on their win! It’s especially interesting that they landed this distinction, not Belbin & Agosto. I do wish I cared more about D&W’s skating. I experience it on a more cerebral level, and it feels more technically strong than transcendent. But great work nonetheless!

I have a skater crush on Fabian Bourzat of France. Yum! His wavy hair and powerful legs get me.

Again, I predicted the correct teams on the podium, but, only the bronze medalists were in the right placement.

Mens

The men’s SPs made for a positively exhilarating competition! Now it’s REALLY heating up. This is the first moment where I felt that real Olympic vibe coming on. I believe Johnny’s SP is the best I’ve ever seen him skate. It was the most honest and revealing performance he’s ever given. In the past, his SPs may have been clean and even inspired, but they were more detached and inward (ie: “The Swan”). Daisuke Takahashi and Evan were perfection in the SP. Daisuke’s SP music is so rhythmically complex, and sophisticated, noone else could make it work like he does. Nobunari Oda didn’t have the luster of past competitions in either program, but skated cleanly enough, continuing to feature his miraculous jump landings…“like buttah”!

I was SO proud of Johnny for reaching his personal best in each scoring phase, as well as delivering the fourth highest total score of the season! I imagine this will be a great confidence booster for him. His legs did seem to be a bit tight in his jumps throughout (ala Butyrskaya). I hope he can soften his knees at Nationals, to offer up his signature smooth ride-out.

I LOVE Jeremy’s Abbott’s new ice-colored satin shirt. It has the glow and allure of a champion of the Winter Games, a great direction visually. He skated beautifully in the LP, after his initial quad fall. He has an ability draw me in to his lines, edges, and the ebb and flow of his footwork. When a skater like him or Kim Yu-Na use a mix of fast AND SLOW footwork, I find it much more effective.

Poor Daisuke. He could beat all of the men with two clean skates, but this LP wadn’t it, of course! It’s still not clear to me if this is training or more mind-related. We’ll see as the season progresses. We know he has it in him! Tomáš Verner is such a head case right now. I fear this could be a confidence killer. I hope he moves forward and learns from it. It would be hard to attend an event you didn’t initially qualify for.

Here, I only predicted correctly two of the medalists, and in the wrong order.

Ladies

I thought Ashley skated beautifully in her SP. She seemed to have good energy and was at least superficially clean. But, I understand there was a two-footed landing and edge deduction. However, her grace and facial expressiveness always make me care about her program and performance!

Miki Ando and Joannie Rochette were duller than dirt in their SPs. They’ve got to shape up.

It was heart-wrenching to see Joannie and Alena Leonova tank in the LP. This does not bode well for Joannie in Vancouver. Akiko Suzuki delivered the goods, and then some! I had hoped she would get the silver, and felt she was undermarked (or Miki was overmarked) in the LP. It is criminal that her PE, CH and IN component scores were nearly 1 point lower than Miki’s. Perhaps her transitions are simpler, but that should just influence TR (and SS at most).

Although Kim didn’t skate near her best, Miki’s LP fell completely flat for me, as it has all season. Yes, this does make the ladies’ field more interesting, for Kim to not win by slam dunk, but (whew!) close call.

Again, I only predicted two of the medalists, and in the wrong order.

Commentating Gripes

Since I tivo’d some of the competition on multiple channels I had the opportunity to see the men’s and ladies’ LPs commentated by Scott Hamilton on one channel, and Peter Carruthers on the other. The experience was night and day! Hamilton made the experience enjoyable and engaging, Carruthers, quite the opposite (annoying and disjointed). I really dislike his offering as a commentator, especially when covering the ladies. Give me ANYONE else, please!

I also found it amusing that when Evan was .10 behind Daisuke in the SP, the commentators called it a “virtual tie”, BUT when Kim was .56 behind Miki in the SP, they talk about it as if it was a near apocalypse. Puh-lease!!!

Next up: possible musings on Japanese, French and Russian Nationals at the end of December, and Canadian, US and Chinese Nats in January!

Ghoulish Figure Skating Clinics

Hosted by the Elite Masters!

Announcing an ALL NEW series of clinics, just in time for Halloween. Young skaters take notice, these are offered ONLY at jcm. They’re positively nightmarish, frightful, macabre, and diabolical!

Triple Axe-L Murder: OFF your chances at scoring high! If you’re a skater with great promise, and otherwise perfect technique, this is the clinic for you. Led by Mao Asada and Stephane Lambiel. Johnny Weir will provide stylish merch.

Miki at Rostelcom Cup, Russia (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)Spooky Arms Clinic: Hide a lack of choreography with this deceptively difficult technique. Learn this creepy art of “wavy”, sewn-on looking arms, with Miki Ando and Plushy. See results quick!

Mummy Wrapped Leg: Find out how to do the horrendous and altogether distracting leg wrap on your triple flips, lutzes, and toes, with Yukari Nakano. Word has it Midori Ito may show up to offer some special tips.

B-Movie Horror Melt-Down: Horrify the audience with over-the-top techniques, from the new queen of the on-ice melt-down, Carolina Kostner. Featuring a primer in how to “pop” jumps and throw it all away in four minutes. Alissa Czisny is the emcee for the evening.

Guillotine Leg Take-Offs: Sever your chance of getting on the podium with a monstrous raise and swift downward drop of ye old leg, before your triple lutzes and flips! Sarah Hughes became an Olympic Champion doing it. Now, learn by Caroline Zhang’s example.

Linda Blair Head-Spot: Are your jumps or spins feeling too fast or just plain easy? Incorporate a head-spot, with help from its sole elite exponent, Kevin van der Perren. It’ll be positively hair-raising, and will help slow ya down! Sponsored by Emanuel Sandhu.

Death By Drowning: Sink your programs with famous Russian coach and Tsarina Tatiana Tarasova. Why look vibrant and full of life on the ice when you could adopt a cold austerity, and dark, melodramatic programs? And you thought you couldn’t fall through rink ice?! (Cue evil laughter.)

Devilish Behavior: Flaunt your cockiness with lackadaisical program endings, and faux confident hand poses and finger points. Be the next alpha male on ice, thanks to input from Plushy and Brian Joubert.

Zombie Face: Capitalize on the recent mainstream obsession with zombies, and suck all the life outta your own programs with Caroline Zhang’s new techniques in lack of facial expression. Find out how to act like you just don’t wanna be there.

Savchenko & Szolkowy, Trophee Eric Bompard (AP Photo/Francois Mori)Freaky Perfection: Acquire a frightening Stepford Wives’ perfection, with Kim Yu-Na. Assure that your strength is your lack of weakness, and make people wonder if you can possibly be real.

Ghastly Costuming: Why save your Halloween costumes for Halloween? Wear them all season long! Learn how to dream-up and “work” costumes that get talked about more than your skating! Savchenko and Szolkowy offer the first half in applying clown makeup. Next up is Johnny Weir, showing you how to imagineer your own corset and Skeletor rib set. Rounding it out, Ekaterina Rubleva will share fun with feather boas!

Disclaimer: This was inspired in part by some recent highly creative posts by Laura over at Required Elements. In the spirit of Halloween, everyone should be able to laugh at themselves, right? (Yes, me included!) So, I took advantage of this holiday to lampoon the quirks of some of the best skaters in the biz, and even some of my favorites. It’s out of love for them and the sport…otherwise it wouldn’t be half as fun. I hope you had fun! Any other clinic concepts I missed (especially in Ice Dance)?

Dishin’ Up Surprises at Rostelcom Cup

Pairs’ SP

What a relief to see the old (yet new) “McBru” back!!! They appeared so relaxed and calm. Their 3T had great height, and is close to competitive with the best in the field. On an aesthetic note, I’d vote for Rockne to wear a single color/piece costume, as it would lengthen his line. His current two-tone top and tights ensemble instead accentuate his stockiness.

I was once again reminded that the gamine Yuko Kavaguti (of Kavaguti & Smirnov) is indeed THE most flexible contemporary ladies skater. Her extension appears unstoppable. Every position and even jump seems to be finished off with a spiral position or pointed foot. It is both beautiful, and yet coltish at the same time.

I was thrilled to discover that Pang & Tong’s SP music was from Bizet’s opera Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearfishers). I’ve never heard it used by a skater, and it was ripe for the pickin’. I’m, of course, a big proponent of using fresh operatic selections for skating programs (that of course excludes Carmen, Turandot, and much of Madama Butterfly). It is the tenor aria Je crois entendre encore”, sung by the character Nadir. Enjoy this most beautiful rendition of it, sung very idiomatically by the great french tenor Alain Vanzo. Amusingly, a pop recording of this aria was also made in ’05 by Alison Moyet (formerly of Yaz)

They proved to be in top form, even at this early phase. I hope they medal in Vancouver (just below Shen & Zhao, that is).

I have a new skater crush (which could land me in jail, as he was born the year I graduated from high school) on Alexei Rogonov, of up-and-comers Martiusheva & Rogonov. This team, new to the Seniors, has a beautiful aura and presentation. They have great “backs” (ie: posture), and she looks like a young Grace Kelly, and he a young Val Kilmer…well, sort of.

Men’s SP

It was so great to finally get to see Johnny’s new SP. Unfortunately, I do agree somewhat with Paul Wylie’s assessment that the sizzle was greater than the steak. BUT, in some ways I feel like this program presents Johnny in a light more true to himself than any before (ala pop star/diva-on-ice, or runway model)…that is, more flirtatious, and less restrained. I feel that Johnny was more passionate and told more of a story than he has for several seasons. The costume is certainly his most flamboyant to date, complete with man-corset. I love the daring black and hot pink color combo. However, the music itself (by di Blasio), which I believe is in part Plushenko’s old music (perhaps from his ’01-’02 LP?), resembles tinny elevator music. I didn’t see much of David Wilson’s stamp on this program, and it just doesn’t feel on the level of his programs for Yu-Na.

Speaking of “Plushy”…he layed out perhaps the most beautiful 3A I’ve ever seen (not to mention his 4/3 combo). It had a delay, before the set down. I suppose I have to learn to live with his wavy arms, as they are just part of his signature movement, and I’ve decided to surrender my previous judgement of him and welcome him back enthusiastically (not that he needs it). He offers a competitive excitement that I’ve missed, and I honor his chutzpah. Who else can sit out of this current COP field for four years, and come back like that? In the old days, when the bar was lower it was easier…now it’s close to miraculous.

My partner, CJ, was complaining that Plushy had “had his time”. I replied, “skaters aren’t like bread…they don’t have an expiration date!” Hell, my argument is always, if they can get back into fightin’ shape, it is their right, and our privilege to see things shaken up a bit!!!cow tipping

Also, amusingly, when Florent Amodio went down on his 3S, CJ called it “Salchow Tipping” (see right). BTW, it was great to see Florent on Senior ice. He has a lot of promise. And, keep an eye on that Artem Borodulin!

Ladies’ SP

Alissa is starting to put the sizzle back in Czisny again!!! She looked so composed, and yet so engaging. I was very proud of her for not rushing her jumps, and skating a nearly clean program. I hope this is a continuing trend!

Amber Wagner really has evolved into a very sophisticated and sexy skater. The details and nuance of her SP are notable. I felt she was a bit undermarked, especially as there were no visible mistakes. Perhaps her jumps were not as big or her glide as fast as Júlia Sebestyén’s (who staged a major upset, and is in first).

Many years back I often found myself rooting for Júlia. When she won her European title in Hungary, I was ecstatic. However, much of her glow wore off for me in recent years. Well, the joy and energy in her skating was visible again, and she looked positively renewed. Even her physical appearance and hairstyle are much more warm and “open” than in recent years, which offered a much less appealing (to me anyways), edgy, Euro-trash look.

Drag Me to HellMiki Ando’s SP is billed as the “Mozart Requiem”. Well, it’s really a musical mash-up, also incorporating what sounds like some generic horror movie soundtrack music. That was a disappointment. Perhaps I’m a purist, but Mozart’s Requiem doesn’t need anything added to it, and should stand on its own. On the whole though, I think the drama and severity of her program actually suit her style of movement and look. Having just watched my fifth suspense/horror film of the Halloween season, “Drag Me to Hell”, I kept expecting her program to summon up a demon (ie: the “Lamia”!). Cue evil laughter!

In the sea of the average Russian Seniors ladies’ skaters, Alena Leonova has won me over. No, I don’t consider her to be a real contender for an Olympic medal, I despise folk song programs (Americans don’t skate to Peter, Paul & Mary, or Woody Guthrie, why do singles skaters feel the need to explore their folk roots on ice? In ice dance, I know it’s often a requirement.), and her style is not very evolved, but she has the most infectious smile, and a genuine verve…shades of Slutskaya.

Signing off, for now…

Post With the Most @ Gay Sports Blog

My post with the most “hits” ever (ok, that’s only since February ’09, but it’s still notable) has also just found a home over at gay.com’s Gay Sports Blog. Clearly peeps just can’t get enough of Johnny.

My originally titled “Pop Star on Ice” @ The Castro Theatre is now enjoying a second coming here: Review: Johnny Weir’s “Pop Star on Ice”. (Special thanks to Aaron. Hey, I scratch your back…you scratch mine!? jk)

Photos: Jay Adeff, Anon., and Kevork Djansezian / AP

Photos: Jay Adeff, Anon., and Kevork Djansezian / AP

It’s always lovely to reach an even broader audience.

Keep an eye out for a screening near you!

“Pop Star On Ice” @ The Castro Theatre

Johnny in heels

When my friend booked my ticket to “Pop Star on Ice” at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, I knew the flick would dish up plenty of bitchy humor and celeb-style entertainment, and figured it would reveal Johnny Weir as a fascinating, but also superficial and narcissistic personality. Instead, he thankfully comes out looking disarmingly and utterly real, complex, insanely and innately gifted, and truly one-of-a-kind. And, the documentary itself is a lovingly crafted piece, telling the story of his life, not just to frivolously entertain, but also to enlighten and inspire.

I’ve always rooted for Johnny, especially when pitted against Evan (Lysacek). My tendency towards the underdog, and his vulnerable, straight shooting (pardon the pun) personality has always drawn me to him. Clearly, as 3-time National Champion one could hardly call him an underdog, at least a few seasons back, but the traditional expectations and desired mold purported by the US Figure Skating Federation and community against which he has had to push qualifies him as such, in my mind.

I will try not to divulge too much detail about the movie, as I’d hate to steal any of the thunder of your experiencing it fresh, but I want to at least help tout this excellent film by dangling a few carrots.

The opening titles are accompanied by critical sound bits about Johnny, narrated in multiple dialects/accents, with hysterical comedic flair: flamboyantly gay, Paris Hilton Valspeak, Minnesotan housewife, Russian, and so on. At the end we discover that this is not the voice of just any narrator, but Johnny himself…yet another skilled and entertaining facet of this performer and personality. If you don’t mind a spoiler, of sorts, watch this intro segment here.

One of the opening scenes sets the tone…clearly Johnny does not take himself too seriously (off the ice), and is just as willing to make fun of himself as others, which is very endearing. He sits naked (presumably) in a frothy bubble bath with his best friend Paris Childers, wearing a campy blond wig, whilst interviewing him in a thick Russian dialect. He asks him questions about Johnny (himself), and Paris answers in queeny fashion. Johnny says they’re so close, “we’re like a married couple without the sex”. Wait, married couples have sex? jk!

Paris & Johnny

 

The story-telling of the documentary is crafted along a graphic timeline (complete with illustrated icons!) of Johnny’s skating career, and the three primary locales in which he has lived (Quarryville, Pennsylvania; Newark, Delaware; Lyndhurst, New Jersey). It moves back and forth along this timeline to give you a perspective of a competitive season, but also a bigger picture of an athlete’s progress over a longer span. This technique helps build drama, as we see Johnny train, and then how he holds up in competition (although the results are of course not a surprise, it makes the story more interesting).

We soon meet Priscilla Hill, Johnny’s coach from age 12 to 2007. Interestingly, he was drawn to her because she too was a clockwise spinner/jumper. Their relationship is just as complex as Johnny himself is. They clearly have/had a great love and admiration for one another (one part mother/son, one part fag hag/fag), and she helped make him what he has become, but also they had reached a point where they perhaps knew each other too well, and were steeped in some bad habits, which was leading to unsuccessfully training and poor competition results. As with any artist, sometimes one just needs freshening up, a new setting, and/or a new team to collaborate with. I even feel this in my profession, where every 5 years or so have found it best to move on to new horizons, and change things up a bit (of course, economic-related lay-offs have helped this along!). You learn different things from different people, and it would foolish to expect one person to be able to offer everything one would need in such an evolving sport.

Priscilla & Johnny

 

It is moving to see Johnny return to his childhood home, where he has both sentimental memories, as well as anxiety, as he is hardly the Quarryville status quo. His first-grade teacher Tawn Battiste is a big fan, and they share a mutual admiration. He visits her current class, and poses for a photo with them.

Other skaters Evan Lysacek, Brian Joubert and Stephane Lambiel have a presence in the film, and some are even interviewed. Johnny’s realness is magnified when contrasted with interviews by Evan, who feels much more calculated, and as if he is carefully measuring what he says, likely to please. Although I have nothing against Evan, think he has much to offer, and certainly believe he deserved to be ’07 National Champion, I was highly amused by (and shared in) the audience hisses at The Castro Theatre, anytime he appeared on screen. He comes across as a villain/antagonist-of-sorts in this film, which is exacerbated by the general media’s highlighting of their “rivalry”.

Given that Johnny was inspired to start skating in his backyard, after seeing Oksana Bauil win the ’94 Olympic Gold, it feels particularly fateful, and fortuitous that he leaves Hill to train with Galina Zmievskaya, Bauil’s former coach. Her more demanding approach, less “friend” or “mother” than Hill had become, appears to be a smart move for Johnny, at least for his ’07-’08 season.

A fallMore than any other source I’ve experienced, this film really allowed me to symphatize with the trials skaters and athletes must push against, and the roller-coaster ride of ebbing and waning commitment, passion, connection to one’s sport/art, etc. It is unbearable to watch Johnny train for the ’07 Nationals. We see a quickly edited succession of his multiple jump attempts (and frequent falls). The toll this takes on the body is so easily understood when seen in this way. We see him distracted, without focus, looking quite underweight, and also struggling to work well or even communicate with Hill. It was clear the outcome would not be good.

Perhaps I should find it more frustrating that Johnny does not “come out” even in this context, but after watching this film, I feel he is withholding little about his life. Some notion of his romantic life would have been welcome, and the lack of it leaves him looking a bit asexual, but frankly, that is his business, and perhaps is better fodder for his tell-all autobiography (in 2020?).

Johnny with the directorsThe question of whether Johnny is a Pop Star, or not, is answered in that he is indeed one in the eyes of “Johnny’s Angels”, and his fans throughout Russia, Asia, and yes, even America. But, as to whether he’s a true, mainstream Pop Star, not yet…once his competitive career is over (after Vancouver, I presume), I’m sure he could be easily launched into that ether, if he so chooses…as he has all the makings of one, and will have more time to nurture his “brand”.

I was heartened to discover that this same directing team of David Barba & James Pellerito will be involved in the upcoming 8-part reality series about Johnny’s quest for Olympic Gold. At the end of the film there was a Q&A with them. Their involvement in the reality series compelled me to ask the following (to paraphrase): “Since training for the Olympics is such a grueling process, how do you remain transparent to Johnny so that your filming, or the “celeb” aspects of being in a reality series are not a distraction for him?

The director’s responses were that they remain pretty invisible to Johnny and his team, and have developed a good relationship with him/them, so that if they felt their presence wasn’t welcome in a given context, they could give him/them space. But, Johnny and the team got so used to them that they weren’t playing for the camera, or really noticing them in the training contexts.

The reality series, which will pick up where this documentary left off, will air early next year on the Sundance Channel, building up to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics!

 

A Very Early Snow: USOC Preview

…and, when it snows, it pours. Or, something like that.

These USOC Winter Portraits” were taken at Smashbox Studios, in LA (May 12 & 15th). They serve as a very exciting preview of all the US Olympic aspirations the upcoming season holds. I felt like a little boy who got a big peak into his biggest gift under the Christmas tree. See the entire photoshoot at Universal Sports’ photo gallery. But, trust me, these snow angels give the best face in these selects.

Evan sure appears to be sending a cold breeze up Johnny’s back:
“Brrrrrrr” (translated from Russian). Looks like Jeremy is hoping to summon up “may the force be with you”, in his Obi-Wan Kenobi look-alike portrait. And, Mirai’s on-ice exuberance seems to be MIA in her shoot…thankfully, she shines when the pressure is on. Speaking of MIA, no M.K.? The door is closing fast!

Now, enjoy our US hopefuls as the Brady Bunch (if you’re too young to get that, enjoy this morsel of ’70s cheese.):

Evan & JohnnySashaJeffrey & AlissaRachael & Belgosto

Zhang & McBruDavite & WagnerMroz & Nagasu

“No one is Jesus” —Sparkly Boy

PSoI PosterPop Star on Ice

Saturday, June 27, 11:00am
Castro Theatre, San Francisco
SF International LGBT Film Festival

“How many other Olympic athletes would let themselves be filmed in a bubble bath and blonde wig gleefully play-acting the Russian interviewer to another naked man (in this case, “best friend” Paris)?” — Jeff Campbell

I am sooooo there!

Find the screening nearest you.

15 days til Worlds…and counting!

Don’t miss out on my Worlds Podium Predictions Contest, with up to $80.00 in gift certificates at stake (and, you pay nothing to play)! And, if you want to experience the Worlds vicariously through “jcm”, click here to check out the groovy Staples Arena “Seat Viewer” (pictured below are our seats in section 117). And, be sure to keep an eye on my tweets in the sidebar for LIVE results.

Staples Arena, LA: View from Section 117

Staples Arena, LA: View from Section 117

With the US junior team scoring 6 of the 12 medals, including 2 gold medals, at the recent Junior Worlds, hopefully our senior team will feel that as wind at their backs, offering them some momentum going into Worlds. Our skaters have clearly been faring much better at Junior Worlds than Worlds of late.

Jeremy Abbott: Photo by Leah Adams

Jeremy Abbott: Photo by Leah Adams

Surprisingly, when lifeskate.com’s Susan asked Johnny Weir in a recent interview what he was encouraging his fans to do at Worlds (given his first absence from them in 5 seasons) he spouted “support Evan Lysacek… loving Evan Lysacek!” Good for you Johnny! (Although, personally I’m rooting for Jeremy Abbott… out of the American men.)

Will there be any fate-changing withdrawals? Canadian pair Langois & Hay have already withdrawn, although they weren’t realistic medal contenders. Will any ice dance teams suffer the same fate? Delobel & Schoenfelder (FRA), Belbin & Agosto (USA), and Domnina & Shabalin (RUS) have all struggled with injury this season. Frankly, I’m surprised that ice dance injuries at the top level outweigh those in pairs. The new CoP, and the demanding lifts in particular are making ice dance far more grueling then in past generations. I still laugh when I recall, around the time the CoP was instituted, and the Salt Lake Winter Games, a critic or commentator (was it Button or Wynne?) said they thought the new lift requirements were causing the male skaters to look like they were carrying their partners around like handbags! How true!

The recent Junior Worlds Ladies Champion Alena Leonova is the perfect case in point for what a gold medal will require at Worlds, where the competetive bar is even higher…TWO solid programs. Although her programs and skating style are mundane in my taste, her 3rd place SP and 2nd place LP trumped Caroline Zhang’s 10th place SP and 1st place LP, and Elene Gedevanishvili’s (GEO) 1st place SP and 11th place LP. Although Zhang (and Wagner’s) quality is much higher than Leonova’s, she was clearly more consistent, and I don’t mind the Russian skating federation and community enjoying a ray of sunlight, given the dark cloud that seems to have been over the prospects of their singles skaters (in particular) over the past few years. However, what I want to know is, where was the new tsarina of the ice Adelina Sotnikova, the ’09 Russian Champion. Now, she is something to behold, and on par with Zhang in expression, extension and artistry! The true future of Russian Ladies’ skating.

Tweens!Speaking of Junior Worlds, you may recall last season’s grumblings after US Nationals that three of the top four finishers in the ladies’ competition were not even old enough to compete at Worlds. I wondered, what did this say about the sport and the CoP? Was it further elevating the tweens, and not leveraging any of the assets of experience or maturity of other longer-standing skaters (even less so than in the past). Three of the US Nationals medalists, Nagasu (1), Flatt (2) and Zhang (4 – pewter) instead could only compete at Junior Worlds. Wagner (3), Liang (5) and Hacker (6) were sent to Worlds. Who knows how Nagasu, Flatt and Zhang would have fared, but clearly the three that went only secured us two spots for this year’s Worlds and may have lowered our profile moving into the Olympic season. Was it lack of competitive experience, lack of maturity? OR, is it the oft discussed, plain-old slump in the highest level of US Ladies’ skating? In response to the latter, clearly the heightening of the skating profile in other countries’ programs (JPN, KOR), has made them competitive players in the field.

This year another interesting situation has arisen. All three US ladies competitors at Junior Worlds have been competing on the senior level for at least a year (Zhang and Wagner for 2), including Nationals and the Grand Prix. Zhang already won the Junior Worlds gold in ’07 (and two silvers more recently), and Wagner the bronze in ’07 (and again in ’09). AND, Hacker is “retiring” from competitive skating on this level to focus on her studies at Princeton University and downgrading to their skating program. Are we not preventing the true juniors from emerging from the field and getting international competition under their belts: the less seasoned up-and-comers Gilles, Maxwell, or Rizo (for example)?

The surprising reality is that Zhang is younger than ALL of these noted “up-and-comers”, so we are reminded that her on-ice maturity belies her years, and is rare indeed (last seen so prodigiously in Cohen, I believe). And that, because of the depth of her senior experience, she sprang to success at that level not because of her age, but because of her ability and hard work.

'08 Nats Ladies Podium: Tween Envy?

'08 Nats Ladies Podium: Tween Envy?

The key problem is that the selection all comes down to a skater’s birth certificate. Skaters are allowed to participate in juniors at the international level until they turn 21. By that time, most skaters have moved on to seniors, or in our time, have even retired from competitive skating (?@!#$). Skaters can’t participate as seniors internationally until they turn 16. But, on the national level many ladies as young as 14 compete as seniors. It creates lots of confusion about the REAL distinction between juniors and seniors, especially in countries where the talent pool is very deep, and where they may continue to compete in both (ie: Japan, US).

Lowering the ceiling for juniors (ie: to 18, for example, as the drinking age so too should be), and doing away with the minimum international age requirement for seniors could be a strong solution. Having the rules be the same internationally, as well as at all national levels would remove much of the confusion. And, in countries that have a shallow pool of skaters or very small programs, special clauses could be put into effect to fairly protect and nurture them.

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