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Weir, Johnny (b. 1984)  
 
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Figure skater Johnny Weir won three United States Championships in men's singles, twice represented his country as an Olympian, and won a bronze medal in the World Championship. Although technically proficient, Weir drew criticism from some in the skating establishment for his choice of costumes, which were dramatic and unconventional, and for his demeanor, which was the same.

Practically from the moment that he took to the ice in elite competition, there was widespread speculation that Weir was gay, but he refused to address the issue until he came out in a memoir, Welcome to My World (2011). He has since become an advocate for glbtq rights.

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Weir was born July 2, 1984 in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, but soon moved with his family to nearby Quarryville, where both of his parents worked at a nuclear power plant.

Figure skating was not the first sport to capture Weir's attention. At an early age he showed promise in equestrianism, a sport in which his father had excelled as a boy.

Because Weir "fell in love instantly" with riding and demonstrated considerable promise, winning his first show and soon being regarded as a prospect for the national team, the family relocated again, this time to the small town of Little Britain, which was closer to his training site.

Although the young Weir was devoting himself to equestrianism, he had also become intrigued by figure skating while watching Kristi Yamaguchi win the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics. Having talked his parents into buying him used skates, he headed for a frozen-over cornfield—crashing into a snowbank on the way—and using his rollerskating skills to maneuver around rocks once he reached it.

Because the boy maintained an interest in skating, his parents gave him a new pair of skates—"black beauties with blades so sharp they could cut skin"—he recalled, and they also enrolled him for lessons at the first-rate skating rink at the University of Delaware.

Once he started his lessons, the die was cast. In the free skate after the third class, Weir launched himself into the air and landed successfully after one and a half rotations. His group teacher took him aside and told him that what he had considered just a "jump" was in fact an axel, adding, "That usually takes someone at least two years to learn. You just did it in two hours."

The teacher brought Weir to the attention of Coach Priscilla Hill, who confirmed Weir's potential and recommended to his parents that the family move to Delaware so that their son could continue training.

It was not practical—either physically or financially—for Weir to continue to work toward elite performance in both equestrianism and skating, and so his parents asked him to make a choice. The boy opted for skating, and so the family relocated once more even though it meant a long commute for his parents.

Weir quickly made friends with other young athletes at the ice rink, but his schoolmates, upon learning that he was a skater, hurled epithets at him and "would sing aggressively anti-Johnny raps."

"I was always strong enough to take that sort of thing. Especially now that I had skating to wrap myself in: it was my art and nobody could take it away from me," Weir recounts in his memoir.

He might have added that no one—particularly a pre-teen child, as he was at the time—should be subjected to such abuse. Considering his years of reluctance to address questions about his sexuality, one may wonder if the slurs that he endured did more damage than he has acknowledged.

Weir enjoyed early success at the Juvenile and Novice levels of competition. In the 1998-1999 season he moved to the Junior level and also competed abroad for the first time. He placed fourth in the national Junior Championship and harbored dreams—"ludicrous" ones, he said in retrospect—of competing in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The next season was a difficult one for Weir. At fifteen he had a growth spurt, which meant that he needed to adjust his techniques, notably on the triple axel, a jump necessary for competition at the highest levels.

In addition to coping with the physical changes, Weir had to learn to navigate the dynamics of the world of competitive sports. Most of the other participants had been skating for medals since they could barely walk, and so they knew the drill, but Weir, a relative late-comer to the sport at twelve, suffered from nervousness and stress.

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Johnny Weir at the 2010 GLAAD Media Awards ceremony. Photograph by Greg Hernandez.
  
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