The American Johnny Weir, one of the most flamboyant skater and artist in the history of the sport, announced his retirement from competitive figure skating on the morning of 23th of October, adding that he would join NBC as a figure skating analyst for the Olympics in Sochi (Russia), next year, in February.
by Florentina Tone
A few hours later, „Falls Church News-Press” published the retirement statement – in fact, an emotional letter written by Johnny to his family, friends and fans. At the end of the letter someone added: „Figure skating was not my favorite sport before Otonal in Turin, but became”. Choreographed by Tatiana Tarasova and Shanette Folle, the free program skated on „Otonal” (by Raúl di Blasio) was one of Johnny’s trademark routines: he won his third consecutive national title and finished fifth at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
For the figure skating world, this particular piece of news was not, in fact, new. On 22th of October, Johnny himself announced on his social media accounts that he had „big stuff to talk about” next day on TODAY, „big announcements to speak on”. And, of course, in September, the skater hadn’t registered for the qualifying events to the 2014 U.S. Championships (where athletes would compete for the Olympic berths). So, yes, that piece of news was actually in the air. But Johnny found the perfect timing to make it official: at the beginning of the Olympic season, between Skate America and Skate Canada, using a wonderful letter to the world – in fact, an emotional story about those 17 years spent on the ice.
Do yourself a favor and read the letter. I’ll only offer you this paragraph – a beautiful one: „For 17 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 crêpe. 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 Banská 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 I worked hard to give her a son she could be proud of”.
Stop there: „I’d never told her I could hear her because I didn’t want her to stop”. Do you ever wonder what these wonderful athletes are thinking about when they are ready to take the ice, to start their routines? I often do. How are they coping with the incredible nervousness? What are they doing when their heads are about to burst into little pieces? Do they hear the incredible noise in the audience? Are they able to recognize familiar voices? One thing is sure: I truly admire them for this amazing ability to put everything aside, breathe and skate. Just skate. (I remember seeing Carolina Kostner in Nice, at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships. The audience was enthusiastic. I was enthusiastic. Everyone screamed: “Ca-ro-li-na!” There were banners: “La Regina e Carolina”. In this ocean of noise, Carolina stopped her ears – and, for a moment, I felt sorry for her: how can you clear your mind of everything and skate? Just skate? In the end, she skated brilliantly – and won the gold).
Again, this is me trying to convince you to read Johnny’s letter; because it really is a sincere insight into his figure skating’ career, into his life in the past 17 years, into his world, with the good and the bad. „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”.
In the end, for his fans, for his family, for his competitors, for his coaches and choreographers: „Thank you for the memories”. Thank you, Johnny.