Johnny Weir Can’t Overcome Poor Judging & His Sport’s Hypocrisy
I’d like to have written about Evan Lysacek’s upset performance that up-ended perennial favorite and skating phenom Yevgeny Plushenko. However, it was unfortunately – for me anyway – overshadowed by judging that went beyond questionable and into the realm of ridiculous.
Johnny Weir, the controversial skater whose flamboyant personality, statements, and costumes have put him in hot water with the skating establishment and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (after wearing a costume with fur trim at Worlds), gave the performance of his life on Thursday evening and earned a standing ovation for his efforts. And yet, once again he was woefully underscored and put in fifth place despite having a program with a higher level of difficulty than NBC’s commentary team seemed willing to acknowledge.
The bias that judges, commentators, and others in the sport have against Weir is perplexing to many who would expect the sport to embrace someone like Weir, a competitor who relishes in the flamboyance of the sport’s traditions. The truth is, though, that the sport has built within it a Catch-22: it is flamboyant, yes, but it does not want you to associate with it the aspects of a sub-culture that has influenced it so greatly over the course of its history. Figure skating is the ethnic trying to hide his or her culture and heritage, and Weir is the one proud enough of who and what he is to throw it in their faces, as if to say “this is who we are, so what are you ashamed of?”
Note – Edited to reflect the fact, as many commenters pointed out, Weir has not in fact come out to the media. My apologies for the error.
That is not to say that all male figure skaters are homosexual. Actually, it’s my understanding that the majority of them actually aren’t. However, there is a element of the sub-culture that is deeply, and rightfully, ingrained in the sport. However, if one dares to remind them of it, he’s brandished an enemy of tradition rather than a champion of its roots.
For a sport that has emphasized that it combines technical finesse with raw athleticism and artistry, it seems to be punishing a competitor who is a unique creature in not just figure skating, but in the world of sports. Weir is, in the truest sense of my personal definition of the term, an artist. Sure, we may laugh at some of his outlandish ensemble choices and make comparisons to Lady Gaga’s unashamed displays of ludicrousness, but there is no fashion element to figure skating in terms of scoring. The thematic costumes in figure skating are a construct of an evolution of tradition, and not a requirement. Despite this fact, for some reason Weir’s choice of clothing upsets traditionalist organizers and judges despite the fact that there is nothing offensive or suggestive in any of his ensembles.
Most mystifying – or tragic – of all is that Weir is a fantastic athlete. You will not find a better pure skater in terms of movement on the ice. They’re pronounced, graceful, and poetic. He moves as if he himself is fluid, channeling his passion and the frustrations of his skating career to create a self-portrait of courage and unabashed independent expression. He is a painter, and his canvas are the eyes of the audience. However, despite an element of artistry in the sport, he is not given credit for this in commentary or scoring.
One constant criticism leveled against Weir is that his programs are far too simplistic and lack the degree of difficulty necessary to put him on a podium. However, while I have not seen him perform a quad with the consistency of a Plushenko, he seems to continually perform jumps equitable to other competitors and he doesn’t seem to have great difficulty with them. Another criticism his detractors levy against him relate to Transitions, which is a term used in figure skating and other sports when someone has to construct an argument against an athlete they simply don’t like.
That is not to say that he doesn’t have his faults as a skater, or that he skates perfectly every time out. I am willing to concede that Plushenko, a freak of nature in and of himself, is a better skater. I will not deny either that fellow American Evan Lysacek skated better on this night. However, I honestly feel that to deny Weir was in their company in these Olympics is folly.
To give you an idea of how ridiculous the scores tonight were, let’s look at who ended up placing ahead of Weir.
* DAISUKE TAKAHASHI (Japan, Bronze Medal) Takahashi fell on his first jump in the program, a quad attempt, and landed squarely on his ass. I mean that literally. He slid on his ass for what seemed like an eternity, got up, and finished a program that otherwise had the same degree of difficulty as Weir. His scores were so inflated that NBC cameras actually caught him reacting with shock, not entirely pleasant, that he had scored as highly as he did despite a bad fall and other errors.
* STEPHANE LAMBIEL (Switzerland, 4th Place) Lambiel bobbled nearly every landing and mailed in all his other elements. The crowd seemed to drift off into sleep as Lambiel nearly missed jumps, stumbled from one element to another, and skated in slow motion.
* PATRICK CHAN (Canada, 5th Place) In addition to a fall, Chan’s performance was all over the place. It was unfocused, sloppy, and he couldn’t seem to hit anything right. The commentators were full of excuses for Chan: he’s injured, he changed coaches, he’s too young. He wasn’t too young, however, when he won Silver in the World Championships last March.
It’s a shame, not just for Weir but for the sport. Lysacek doing the unthinkable and unseating the dominant Plushenko (the perfect heel for the sport) was a great story that should have dominated the evening. Unfortunately, like in Turino, the judges once again made themselves the story. MMA fans will know what I mean when I say that we can at least take solace in knowing that there are Cecil Peoples in every sport, in every country, and at every level.
In spite of this travesty, my hat is off to Johnny Weir. Johnny, you’re unapologetic about who you are and what you do. You excel at your sport, but you’re also enough of an artist to want more than what the hypocritical establishment has elusively pre-ordained. You are in a sport that often becomes a parody of itself in terms of pretentiousness and cheese, yet punishes you for embracing the better elements of both. You deserved better, but more importantly you were better. You may not go home with a medal from these games, but you will go down in history for pushing the sport to a new level.
And for that, you get a Gold Medal from me. Except…well, it’s not actually gold. And it’s not a medal either. It’s a certificate from BureauOfCommunication.com: