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Worried about his safety, Johnny Weir is staying with athletes

By from news services
Sunday, February 14, 2010; D06

Johnny Weir is staying at the Olympic village because he was concerned about his safety after receiving what he considers "very serious threats" from anti-fur activists.

The American talked about staying in a hotel because he didn't enjoy his experience in the Olympic village four years ago. But security has become his main concern.

"I felt very threatened," he said Saturday. "I'm not allowed to say how everything got through, but my agent got letters and faxes and e-mails. I got letters at the ice rink, somebody found my phone number.

"All these crazy fur people. Security-wise, to stay in a hotel would be very difficult. There have been threats against me. I didn't want to get hurt."

Weir is sharing a two-bedroom suite with ice dancer Tanith Belbin, which made for some humorous by-play earlier in the week. But the three-time national champion wasn't in a joking mood Saturday about accommodations -- or about changing his costume for the free skate.

"I'm just an easy person to pick on because I like fur," he said. "It's easy to put your case against an athlete who is going to the Olympics. It's a very good, easy thing for these activists.

"It's a very scary thing. I'm a figure skater, I'm not some huge politician who gets these things all the time."

Weir drew the ire of animal-rights activists last month after he added white fox fur to the left shoulder of his costume for the free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. After nationals, he said he would wear faux fur in Vancouver.

"It was not because I was pressured to change it, but because I don't like faux fur," Weir explained. "I didn't change the costume, I'm just switching back to another costume."

The men's short program is Tuesday and the free skate is Thursday.

Weir's career has stagnated since the 2006 Olympics, where he was second after the short program and then plummeted to fifth. He missed the bus to the rink for the free skate in Turin, which he admitted unnerved him.

So how might these threats affect Weir, who finished third at nationals to grab the final U.S. spot for the Olympics?

"I don't think anything overpowers my skating," Weir said. "This costume controversy was silly. It didn't change my opinion about anything, it didn't change my life."

Protesters cause a stir

More than 200 masked Olympic protesters splattered red paint and smashed windows of a popular downtown department store Saturday on the first day of competition at the Vancouver Games.

Police say the group marched through the upscale shopping district, vandalizing cars and stores. Witnesses say protesters threw metal newspaper boxes into the display windows of Hudson's Bay Company, where Olympic souvenirs are sold. Rich Gorman, regional vice president, estimated the damage at about $10,000. Witnesses say nobody appeared injured.

Police in riot gear quickly moved in and quashed the protest. Spokeswoman Jana McGuinness confirmed there were arrests, but she did not know how many. Authorities planned an afternoon news conference.

The protest was organized by the Olympic Resistance Network to "disturb business as usual" on the first day of the Games. The network is an umbrella group for a dozens of causes surrounding the Games, ranging from environmental concerns to economic issues.

Yzerman: Russia favored

Steve Yzerman, the executive director for Canada's hockey team, says Russia is the favorite to win gold at the Vancouver Olympics. Yzerman tried to paint the powerful Canadians as underdogs Saturday, noting that Russia is the two-time defending world champion and the world's top-ranked team.

The former Detroit Red Wings star says "with a little bit of luck the other countries can dethrone them."

Yzerman also says it would be a mistake for the NHL to pull out of the Olympics. Commissioner Gary Bettman has expressed reservations about continuing to allow the league's stars to play, but Yzerman says participating in the Olympics has "been great for the game and it's been great for the NHL."

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