Copeland on Olympics
On Skater Johnny Weir's Shopping Habits and More From Turin

Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 23, 2006 12:00 PM

Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir has been out shopping every day, shopping so much that the Louis Vuitton store in Turin, Italy, which he affectionately calls "Louie" and which he's visited six or seven times since arriving two weeks ago, paid for his cab recently when he was leaving. (Read more.)

Washington Post staff writer Libby Copeland was online Thursday, Feb. 23, at noon ET to talk about her experiences shopping with Weir in Turin, and her time at the 2006 Winter Olympics. In today's Post, Copeland writes about the Today Show set in Turin.

Read More of Copeland's Olympics Coverage

Full Coverage: Turin 2006

The transcript follows.


Libby Copeland: Greetings! Let's talk about Louis Vuitton, rabbit hand warmers and whatever else is on your mind. If you think Johnny Weir is fascinating, you should read my biathlon story tomorrow!

Ah. Hah.

But seriously, he's got to be one of the best--if not the best--subjects for a story I've encountered in my almost eight years at the Post. He's a feature writer's dream. And he's also a ball to hang around with. I must say, however, that I didn't buy a belt when we were shopping, although I wanted to. All the stores we were in were rather out of my reach.


MT CARMEL, Pa.: Loved your article!

Now this is finally my kind of Olympics--the shopping kind. I respect Johnnie's skating ability--PLUS his ability to bargain. On that basis he'll go far, I predict.

Question: Where does Johnnie shop in New York? And how does he respond to the PETA (anti-fur) people?

Libby Copeland: Yeah, the bargaining thing was impressive. Among the reasons he says he's able to get deals: he spoke french with the saleslady; he made a scene when he had to go to an ATM because the store's credit card machine was broken; he was nice.

IN New York, I couldn't tell you. But there's a Louis Vuitton there, no?

We actually didn't talk about the fur issue, though I have gotten an email about that from someone upset that he owns so much fur.


Frederick, Md.: Regarding Johnny Weir's shopping habits (and his totems, and his jewelry, and his personal collection of sunglasses and handbags)... in light of the fact that he placed fifth overall...

Why should we care?

Libby Copeland: You don't have to. But as for why other people do, it's because he's a fascinating character. 21 years old, says whatever he wants (and damn what the officials think), apparently quite comfortable in his own skin, pulling in six figures a year, shops like he's leaving for a desert island (if one needed a python coat on a desert island). He's one in a long line of compelling, over-the-top athletes. He just happens to be in figure skating instead of basketball, baseball, etc.


Fairfax, Va.: Libby! Libby! Libby! I love ya gal (my mother-in-law's name is Libby) but PULESASE! Leave Johnny alone! From what I've seen of him during the Big Os, Johnny appears to be a really nice kid but, like most kids, he's working really hard to figure out his place in this big wide crazy world he's been put in. Nevertheless, no matter how nice a kid he is, his accomplishments to date simply don't merit including him within your Cult of Celebrity Hall-of-Fame (fortunate for him)!

Lib, couldn't we just wait awhile, maybe until he wins a Gold medal (or a Silver or a Bronze) before we all assume the genuflectory position?

I admonish you girl! Give up this wildly quixotic quest to become Johnny's personal haruspex; at least until such time as he has truly accomplished something meriting our attention; otherwise, you run the risk of swelling his head to a size that would be incongruous with his latest Louie!

Libby Copeland: What, wait four more years till he's 25 and about to leave figure skating?

He's a great figure with or without an Olympic medal. And he's had plenty of success on the competitive circuit outside the Olys. I'd say his pulling in six figures a year and being one of the top U.S. male figure skaters is purty good justification for us writing about him.


Bartlesville, Okla.: Libby, thanks for the chat. How did you expect people to react to this story, and are the reactions in this chat confirming your expectations? I assume he gave you permission to accompany him, but I would imagine most of the reaction is negative. Does he not know or not care about the way he comes across? It also seems to strengthen Rudy Galindo's contention, which is, or shouldn't be, anyone's business but Weir's. Speaking as a gay man in one of the reddest states, I say leave the kid alone. After all he's super rich and how he spends his money, assuming it's not spent on drugs, liquor, gambling or the like, is up to him.

Libby Copeland: Actually, most of the reaction has been really positive. I think he's very comfortable with who he is and how he comes across.


MT CARMEL, Pa.: Don't think there's much bargaining going on at LV in NYC, unfortunately.

But maybe the Olympic stars can get special deals everywhere?

Libby Copeland: I wonder that--whether people recognize him. Do most people in America know who Johnny Weir is? Most of us only pay attention to figure skating once every four years.

By the way, you are correct--he did say he can't bargain at LV. He said they don't do discounts.


Washington, D.C.: Johnny Weir clearly makes WAY too much money.

Yes, I'm jealous.

Libby Copeland: I'm sure you're not the only one.


Arlington, Va.: I enjoyed your article and I love Johnny. But that boy needs to find a good therapist! Talk about compulsive shopping...what void is he trying to fill with all the sunglasses?

Libby Copeland: Drop Till You Shop (Post, Feb. 22)

Libby Copeland: This is an interesting question. I'm just a lowly reporter, not a psychologist. But he did talk about that a little when we were in one of the stores. He said he wonders sometimes if he tends to hoard things because he grew up with not so much money. Who knows?


Turin Media Center: Is Mike Wise single? My friend has a crush on him.

Libby Copeland: What day is it? Thursday? Why yes, I believe he is.

Oh, snap! He's gonna kill me for that.


Brunswick, Maine: Did Mr. Weir hang out with any other members of the US Olympic team, skaters or otherwise? Or did he keep to himself? Besides shopping and skating, what else does he do with his time in the US?

Libby Copeland: He does. He said he's friends with Sasha Cohen, and when we were drinking coffee her mom came by and said hello to him. He said he's gotten to know Evan Lycasek better, and he's always friends with some of the Russians and one of the Israeli ice dancing duos.

He also said that it can be hard being friends with other figure skaters sometimes.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi-

Johnny cracks me up. What are his plans after the Olympics?

Libby Copeland: He does Champions on Ice for months --through the summer, I believe. There are other exhibition skates he does to make money, as well.

It's not a bad living--six figures, he said. He said he's promised to pay to put his brother through college.


Arlington, Va.: I'm not quite sure how to ask the question, or for that matter, what the question is per se, but I've found it rather odd the media's reactions to certain athletes. It seems to me that the media picks a few "characters" builds them up and then when reality doesn't meet the media's expectations they delight in trouncing them (Bode, Chad, etc.), or in the case of Johnny spending time discussing shopping habits. Why is there so much coverage of the person who finished 5th and less coverage of the wonderful Evan Lysacek who pulled himself up to 4th under the radar? Why is there so much coverage of the feuding people and less of the wonderful Joey Cheek who is both a gracious and magnanimous winner? It seems that the media chooses to emphasize the uglier (or, no offense, irrelevant in the case of JW's shopping) sides of these events...

Libby Copeland: I think you're right about the way we build people up. I the athletes themselves do this as well. Seems to be like we tend to think of our U.S. team as a constellation of personalities, whereas some other countries tend to think of them more as teams.

Some of this is the celebrification (can I use this?) of our society. I'm not going to disdain this; it is what it is. Celebrity is incredibly cheap now, and reams of people are almost stars, about to be stars, just got done being stars.

Here's the other thing: we'd all rather read about someone who says and does unexpected, over-the-top things than someone who is more conventional, more like us. That's drama, and it's ancient and human and hard-wired. I'd prefer to watch a 2-hour thriller than a movie about some woman who brushes her teeth, goes to sleep, wakes up and goes to work.

If you want to see the teeth-brushing movie, you let me know. No doubt there's someone who's been dying to do that documentary.


Mulberry, Fla.: Isn't about time American athletes stop bragging about what they will do in the Olympics? Time and time again we find that the end results are way off the projected. The end result is that we have mediocre performances and too much is being printed about the behavior outside the competition.

Libby Copeland: Here we are again (see above). Who's fault is this? The athletes for making predictions or the reporters who use the quote over and over until it achieves mythic proportions?

Chad Hedrick has said that part of being an aggressive athlete sometimes is having a healthy ego, bumping heads with teammates, and so on. (I'm paraphrasing here, so please, all you people who keep Chad Hedrick's quotes up on your bulletin boards next to full-size posters of him in spandex, don't freak out.)


Fairfax, Va.: Libby, I thought your article was entertaining and well-written, but is it possible I am the only one who thought it was incredibly sad? Doesn't anyone care about human need and suffering any more? Why do we celebrate this kind of thing? Have we lost all perspective? I just think the Paris Hilton culture has gotten way out of hand. Sincerely, a child of the sixties ...

Libby Copeland: No, you're not. I've gotten a few emails suggesting there was a pathos to the story. I agree.


Somewhere, Washington, D.C.: Johnny Weir is my nomination for America's Sweetheart. I can't wait for him to skate at worlds. Did he say he would be attending the ladies' free skate tonight? What is he going to wear?

Libby Copeland: Good question. One of my fabu colleagues, Dan Steinberg, just returned from the palavela, where the competition is to be held shortly, and saw Johnny there doing a TV segment. He was wearing, according to Dan: "ripped tight jeans, silver shoes and a purple sweater."

And apparently he was quite good on TV. I haven't seen Olympic Ice yet, but I wish I had. Apparently Johnny did an episode of Queer Eye For The Skate Guy.

I wonder if my fabulous producer Katie would include a link to Sir Steinberg's amazing Olympic blog here. It's the least I can do for the tip, short of giving him another pin.


North Canton, Ohio: Johnny sounds like a reality show/sitcom just waiting to happen. Plus I want to be his new best friend and I'm a 63-year-old grandma.

What fun - you go Johnny!

Libby Copeland: Yeah, he really is fun. He says he wants to go into fashion design, but personally, I think TV, TV, TV.


Rockville, Md.: Could you afford any of the stuff he was buying? Where do you usually shop?

Libby Copeland: Uh, no.


washingtonpost.com: Tales From Turin: An Olympic Journal by Dan Steinberg


New York: Does Johnny Weir have any sense of humility? You mention his more modest upbringing, but did it occur to him during this afternoon spending spree that many of his fellow Olympians get up at 4 a.m. to train for their much more grueling pursuits before pulling an 8 hour shift at Home Depot just to make ends meet and be able to train? Does this guy have any perspective?

Libby Copeland: Hm. Good question. I feel like I didn't spend enough time with him to really judge that. He talked a bit about his feeling that it's important to be kind to everyone, a sense that what goes around comes around.

He's also fascinated by books about the Holocaust. Make of that what you will.


Overland Park, Kan.: Has anyone bribed Steinberg yet to not be involved in the C!O!T!D! shenanigans, or does he still have the run of the office? And why hasn't anyone countered with something like Chocolate of The Day?

washingtonpost.com: Tales From Turin: An Olympic Journal by Dan Steinberg

Libby Copeland: I've been doing chocolate of the day very quietly here at my desk. I do it several times a day. In fact, as often as I can. And I'm here to tell you: it's all very, very good.

Mrrrmmmph. [Sound of Libby stuffing more Italian chocolate in her mouth.]


Boston, Mass.: Johnny's making 6 figures now, but what happens when he no longer is? You can only skate for so many years. Has he thought about the future at all? Is he saving any?

Libby Copeland: He said he is saving money, though (he said) not as much as he should. I don't know how much.


Alexandria, Va.: Loved the article! The Olympics are full of people that I couldn't even dream of having anything in common with, but Johnny Weir's shopping? Now that I can relate to. Now if only I had as much money to throw around ...

Libby Copeland: What, you mean you don't have 40 piece of Louis Vuitton luggage?


Madison, Wis.: I, too, found the story to be kind of sad. Also, I'm sure he's making buckets of money now, but how long is that really going to last? A few years at most, and then what -- sports commentating? I just worry about his financial position long term (I'm an accountant, can't help it). Did he make any mention of saving some money for the future, or will he be throwing all his sunglasses on the fire to stay warm in his old age?

Libby Copeland: See above.

I would like to announce, just for the record, that I don't have a single pair of designer sunglasses. So I can't speculate as to how well they burn.


Washington, D.C.: Hey Libby! Just wanted to say that I loved the article and would have loved to have been along for the ride! I think that it's great that Johnny is himself and makes no apologies for it. He can count me as a new fan!

Libby Copeland: I love the different reactions.


Sunny Florida: Is Johnny Weir officially out of the closet? I mean, it's obvious that he's gay and not trying to hide it but I haven't actually read anything that says he's gay, which seems a bit odd nowadays.

Libby Copeland: He doesn't talk about it. He's been asked but he deflects the questions, saying he thinks this is private. There's been somewhat of a drumbeat for him to come out and a quieter counter-drumbeat (is there such a thing?) suggesting that it's his business.


Washington, D.C.: Just to let you know, your article was far and away the most entertaining thing I've read in the Washington Post in quite some ( Dan Steinberg's blog excepted).

Libby Copeland: Grazie.


Washington, D.C.: To the poster that said JW hasn't accomplished anything- is three consecutive national titles not enough to have "done something"?

Libby Copeland: A counterpoint.


Washington, D.C.: Does Johnny have plans to go back to school?

Libby Copeland: Yes. He wants to go to FIT in New York City.


Mmmissouri: Johnny's a gorgeous skater, wonderful to be able to watch him - even his "flubbed" long program was more interesting than most of the "complete" ones because he's just so gorgeous on the ice. I wish him a long and successful career, and thank him for being willing to be himself rather than someone else's image of who he "should be". Wish more of us could so it as well as he seems to.

Libby Copeland: Another viewpoint.


Arlington, Va.: Interesting article, interesting kid. Am I right that it is a fairly recent thing that skaters are getting rich off ice shows while they are still training for things like the Olympics and World Championships? I know the Olympics are not strictly "amateur" or "non-professional" competitions anymore, but is Weir unusual? Or do Cohen, Slutskaya, et al do the ice show thing too?

Libby Copeland: This is a question better answered by my colleague, Amy Shipley. But yes, I believe exhibition skates are fairly common.


Arlington, Va.: Libby, I loved your Johnny Weir story . Did you talk to him much about his family? Being from rural Pennsylvania, I can't help picturing them as conservative, quiet, salt-of-the-earth people who are total opposites of Johnny. Is that true? And were they in Turin to watch him skate?

Libby Copeland: I didn't meet his parents. They'd already left Turin by the time I met up with him. What I've read about them suggests that his mom is very supportive and somewhat of a kindred spirit. I don't know much about his dad.

Johnny said the area he grew up had a good deal Amish and Mennonite people.


DuPont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Libby, sister, you are toooooo fab. When I read that article I was like, "Hello, girlfriend, you and I have to shop, shop, shop till we drop." Anyhooo, who is the cutest boy at these Olympic Games? -I mean, like the Italian speed skater, Johnny, hot skier boys, snowboarding boys with abdomens made of washboards. Please, sister, do tell.

P.S. Those earrings in your picture? GORGEOUS, darling, absolutely gorgeous. God, I saw Sasha Cohen wearing something the other night and I thought, "Ew. Ew. Ew."

Libby Copeland: I'm going out on a limb here, but I *think* this person is being sarcastic.



Silver Spring, Md.: So glad to see the end of the antiquated ice skating scoring system. Now if NBC would get rid of some of their antiquated announcers it would be even better.

Nice to see Weir was enjoying the local shops. Do many of the athletes seem to be taking advantage of getting out in the local area or do they stick close to the Olympic village and venues?

Libby Copeland: Not a Dick Button fan?


Bethesda. Md.: What's it like sharing an office with Dan Steinberg and Mike Wise? They seem pretty wild on that blog.

washingtonpost.com: Tales From Turin: An Olympic Journal by Dan Steinberg

Libby Copeland: It's just one party after another. Lemme tell ya.

This whole thing where we pretend we're working is such a sham.

Mike, Dan, pass the vino darlinks.

Actually, it really IS pretty great here.


Laurel, Md.: Libby, was is the best thing you've seen or experienced so far that hasn't made (or won't make) the pages of The Washington Post?

Libby Copeland: I may or may not write about the free shaitsu massages they give out here in the press center. I kid you not. Free.


Washington, D.C.: These people who are criticizing Johnny aren't thinking that somewhere out there is a kid who is a complete oddball, mercilessly teased and picked on by other kids. I wish there was someone like Johnny Weir on the world stage when I was that weird, picked-on kid. He shows that you can let your freak flag fly and be who you are and still find your niche and respect in this world. You don't need to change and be like everyone else. If that's not pathos, I don't know what is.

Libby Copeland: Let's put this one up against the next....


Washington, D.C.: This whole "he says what he wants" thing he has going on seems phony to me. I mean. He's really not saying anything that shocking, and the fact that he knows exactly what he's doing makes it seem as though he's very calculating about cultivating this image. Not really someone who's free and unconcerned about what people think ... what say you?

Libby Copeland: A counterpoint to the above.


Arlington, Va.: Once again Shani Davis seems to have shown his true colors. He has dropped out of the last race because his chances for winning are slim. I guess just like in the team event if there is not chance for him to get undivided attention and glory he wants nothing to do with it. How selfish. Every interview I saw with him and his mother, even before all the controversy showed me that he is nothing but a spoiled momma's boy, bent only on personal recognition and glory. And I he is not the center of attention and the winner, momma is going to fight for him, that is after he throws a hissy fit and then takes his skates and goes home.

Libby Copeland: And while we're at it, let's put this one up against the next.....


Arlington, Va.: What exactly makes you think Shani Davis is a "loner type" who does "whatever he wants and doesn't care what anyone thinks"?

Shani sure hasn't seemed like a loner in his interviews. He seems pretty expansive and insightful about his sport, expect when he chose to stiff NBC because of ridiculous comments Bob Costas made. And who doesn't do whatever he wants and doesn't care what anyone thinks. What exactly does that comment mean?

He didn't do the team pursuit. He never said he would. He'd never practiced it with anyone. Why was him not doing it such a big deal if you're name isn't Chad "I want 5 medals so I can go to Hollywood" Hedrick.

Libby Copeland: Namely, this one.


Washington, D.C.: Why are these people up in arms about Johnny not coming out? It's like, why does anyone that young have to talk about their sexual orientation? I don't care if he's gay, straight or androgynous. He cracks me up and he's a great skater.

Libby Copeland: It's a really interesting divide, this difference of opinion about Johnny's sexuality and how vocal he should be about it.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: So, could we please hear more about Johnny's generosity - eg, paying for his brother's education - and his interests in fashion? Anyone who has that many versions of that many things must see at a level of details I don't. How does that visual approach/focus manifest in his skating? Not just costumes, but line and movement and expression? I'd love to hear more about that. The boy is rich, and can spend as he chooses, and that he makes choices some of us wouldn't is no surprise. That's not as interesting to me as how the way he -sees- the world is reflected in how he skates and what it is about fashion that fascinates him.

Libby Copeland: He knows fashion really well, or so it seemed to me. I thought I had an inkling but turns out, I don't.

If he does a clothing line, as he says he wants to, I suppose we'll see more of his aesthetic.


Libby Copeland: Okay, I have to get back to my chocolate and writing about biathlon, which is surely the Winter-Games-polar-opposite of shopping with Johnny Weir.

Thanks for joining me.


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