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Book Review: Welcome to My World by Johnny Weir

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As autobiographies go, Johnny Weir’s Welcome to My World reads like a defense. The seasoned figure skater, a three-time national champion and two-time Olympian, has had no shortage of press attention for his colorful comments and candid choices where coaching and costumes are concerned. He has received both glowing adulation and scalding criticism from fans.

With the publication of his autobiography, the public can now see the emotions that influenced every decision and how he rose from a shy Pennsylvania boy to a public figure with a TV show and pop music single. Welcome to My World is unerring in its prose and winsome in its mission.

There is a definite air of welcome in Johnny Weir’s storytelling, and the book is a well paced, accessible read for both figure skating fans and curious watchers of pop culture. Weir has become a skating icon, boldly proclaiming his spirit off the ice as few athletes dare to do.

Like most athletic books, Weir’s is short and to the point. He skims through his childhood, only making short mention of his imaginative personality, and centers most of his focus on his years in figure skating’s highest ranks. It may be surprising for some to learn that he did not start skating until quite late in life at age twelve, instead preferring to do competitive horseback riding.

But once he started landing jumps on ice (figuring out how to do an axel in an hour; no small feat), he was hooked and immediately began a coaching partnership with Priscilla Hill. Weir trained with Hill up through the 2006 Turin Olympics, but shortly afterwards, sought out Russian mogul Tatiana Tarasova, who coached him through his second Olympic games in Vancouver.

For a world-class athlete to make such an abrupt shift is intriguing enough, but this is by no means the most revealing part of Welcome to My World. Johnny Weir recounts exactly what the media was always clamoring to know at his competitions. He shares why he melted down and missed jumps under pressure, how he so carefully shaped the sphere of influences around him (including his Olympic Games roommates), and whom he liked or disliked. He also holds back nothing on the subject of his sexuality and the impact being gay had throughout his competitive career, from his first heady relationships to tactless questions from reporters.

One relationship on which he keeps mum, though, is his professional rivalry with 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek. For years, the two skaters battled for dominance in men’s figure skating, with Lysacek keeping a stony front to Weir’s quotes, including the time he noted if Evan “doesn’t want to skate to music that’s pretty and wear a pretty costume, then go rollerblade or skateboard or do one of those extreme sports.”

Readers will learn very little else about Weir’s feelings on the matter, because he wisely leaves his tension with Lysacek alone and keeps an extremely respectful tone towards anything that happened on the ice. Even more refreshing is his candor in admitting any mistakes he has made throughout his career, while maintaining an uninhibited love for the sport.

Weir’s passion for figure skating, and for everything he pursues in life, comes across clearly on every page. He is more than a personality; he is also a human making choices and revealing his art to audiences around the world.

The book does give some subjects a less-than-delicate treatment. Although Weir analyzes his actions with the benefit of hindsight, his references to a profound and continuing dislike for the United States Figure Skating Association are bluntly aggressive and do not point to future reconciliation. If Weir ever does make a competitive comeback, he will be forced to deal with the federation again, and his words are no aid in reconstructing their ties.

Similarly, he makes mention of his enjoyment of partying and consuming alcohol, mostly while on tour with a major skating show. He also drops phrases about his need to be skinny for competitions, or how little he eats before skating. These are personal choices, which Weir is free to share, but this makes it tricky to recommend the book for younger readers, particularly ice skaters. They may assume that this is an acceptable or healthy way of life for a professional skater, because Weir is able to pull it off with few consequences.

A second way in which the book presents a skewed self-perception is when it comes to Weir’s celebrity. He insists that he is not famous, and simply a boy from a small, predominantly Amish community. However, the fact that he is trailed by paparazzi and attends a party thrown by Elton John suggests otherwise.

It may lead one to wonder if Weir realizes just how much sway he truly has in the skating world and how many people he is capable of influencing. At the least, it seems artificial for him to make the claim that he is not a celebrity.

There are still some walls left in Johnny Weir’s world, no matter how much he attempts to remove them. Perhaps that is good. Perhaps it means that there is much more growth and development left in his productive, unresolved career.

Welcome to My World is a recommended read for all fans of figure skating, especially if author Johnny Weir returns to the competitive figure skating circuit. Though he admits “quiet reflection and waiting is not my way. For the past thirteen years, it’s been beaten into me to never look back,” in this autobiography he does precisely that.

The prose is just as vivid and entertaining as Weir is in person, but with the added earnestness of a man who wants to capture how much he truly loves his sport. Weir just may win some new fans through this celebration of his skating life.

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About Laurel Savannah

  • cybercitizen

    Minor point: Think that you meant Galina Zmievskaya for the coach training him through his second Olympics. Tatiana Tarasova was his coach for the summers of 2003 and 2005 as well as choreographer for various programs.