Weir within clawing distance in men's figure skating

Johnny Weir floats through the air.
Johnny Weir floats through the air.
Posted: February 17, 2010

VANCOUVER - "It's going to be a catfight in the long program," Johnny Weir said after completing his short program last night, and incredibly, he's still one of the scratchers.

A program long on fun and tainted by only a few small glitches put him within clawing distance of defending gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko heading into tomorrow night's men's final at Pacific Coliseum.

Dressed in black with pink trim - "showing man cleavage," he quipped - Weir was near-perfect on a series of triple jumps, but won his marks through his characteristic stylish routine. His 82.10 placed him in sixth place, close enough to Plushenko's 90.85 to make a medal still possible, if still improbable.

No problem, said the Coatesville native.

"Results and scores I can't control," he said. " My goal for this whole competition is to show them my heart and take them on a journey with me and make them feel with me.

"When I came in here I knew a medal was pretty far-fetched for me. I haven't been a contender for a number of years now, so I was left out of that group that people thought could challenge for a gold medal. I have no problem with that."

Nor did he have a problem with the scoring, or even the booing he received from the audience when his score appeared and he jumped over Canadian Patrick Chan. That happened to Weir two skaters later when his teammate and reigning world champion, Evan Lysacek, hopped over him and into second behind Plushenko.

"The level of skating tonight was above Olympic," blogged Kristi Yamaguchi on the NBC site. "Anyone can win this."

Well, not anyone. But Weir's got a prayer, which made last night a great success all by itself. Even in his contender days, Weir tended to self-destruct from the pressure, but his maturity was evident in both his approach and execution last night.

Plushenko, meanwhile, was living up to his bold pre-Olympic words, landing a quad/ triple within the first minute of his routine, executing his short-program routine with the confident presence of an Ivy League professor.

"When I landed that combination, the audience erupted," Plushenko said. "That really pushed me."

Plushenko won gold in Turin and silver in Salt Lake, and claims he would "accept any result." But he also cited the pressure, both from his native Russia and from those who say, "You must, you must." He may not like it, but it seems clear that he has used the heat to push to newer, bolder heights. The quad, he said again after last night's skate, is "the future of figure skating."

"Without it, it's not men's figure skating," he said.

That jump, of course, can separate him from the cat-nippers. He can do style, and he can do substance, and if there is such a thing as intimidation in this sport, he's probably got that covered too.

Truth is, for all his brave talk, Johnny has wilted under this heat before. He finished a disappointing fifth in Turin, mostly due to self-inflicted silliness. While his candor about such mistakes has made him a media darling, it seemed to have eroded away any chance of a lasting legacy, or to be taken seriously.

Too bad. Because one look at the guy - open shirt, pink scarf, the fake/real fur - makes you wish that last night was leading to something big tomorrow.

"I did the best I could," he said finally. "I mean, when's the last time you've seen so many scores over 80?"

There are seven with that score or above heading into tomorrow.

"I'm just happy to be a part of that," he said.

As are we. Should Johnny keep his cool this time, it should be fun and memorable; it could even be one of those Olympic moments. Plushenko's probably right about the quad becoming the engine in future men's figure skating competition. But he should at least recognize that characters like Weir provide the fuel.

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