PORTLAND – Johnny Weir figured out early that he was better off as a solo act.
About seven years ago and still new to skating, Weir’s coach, Priscilla Hill, wanted him to focus on more than just jumps. He teamed up with another young skater, Jodi Rudden.
“We were really cute, we were about the same size,” the still-diminutive Weir said Wednesday after practice at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Weir and Rudden made it to the junior nationals twice, but it soon became clear that a career in pairs wasn’t going to work for Weir. In practice, he would carefully watch Rudden when she attempted a double jump.
“If she was going to miss it, he’d fall too to make her feel OK,” Hill said. “So I knew there was a point when we just would have to move on to singles.”
That experience forced Weir to consider different aspects of his skating – the strokes, the spins, the artistry.
“I definitely think it did help him get to this level,” Hill said.
Weir is at the top of his field as he prepares to defend his title at this week’s nationals.
Weir was a surprise winner last year, landing eight triples and earning a 6.0 for presentation from one judge. At 19, he was the youngest champion since Todd Eldredge in 1991.
The victory kicked off a whirlwind year. He went on to place fifth at his first world championships, won a pair of Grand Prix events and finished second to three-time world champion Evgeni Plushenko in a third. Weir would have been a favorite for last month’s Grand Prix final, but was forced out because of a sprained foot.
The 5-foot-9 skater said he is healthy.
“I’m feeling very comfortable and I’m definitely healed 100 percent,” he said.
Weir’s success has come despite not doing a quadruple jump. Though he’s been practicing one and plans to include it in his routine at the world championships, it won’t be in his programs this week.
“I like to focus on the whole picture of the program, focus on the steps as well as the spins, and, of course, jumps too,” he said.
He’ll be challenged by Michael Weiss, a veteran three-time national champion, and Timothy Goebel, the 2001 U.S. champion and Olympic bronze medalist.
Weiss, who at 28 is the oldest competitor among the men, will have a quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination in both of his programs. Goebel, who is known as “The Quad King,” seems to have regrouped after a turbulent time marred by injuries and an abrupt coaching change.
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