Michael Weiss has been entertaining people with his skating since he was 9 years old. Now, the three-time U.S. champion, 31, is part of the traveling Smucker's Stars on Ice 'Live and In Color' show that will visit Rosemont's Allstate Arena, 5400 N. River, Feb. 23. Weiss discussed everything from the revised scoring system to the perception that skating is a 'gay' sport with Windy City Times.
Michael Weiss ( left ) , one of the featured skaters, speaks with Windy City Times. Smucker's Stars on Ice will be in town Feb. 23.
Windy City Times: What can fans expect at this show?
Michael Weiss: They can expect a show that's pretty entertaining for everybody—like they say, 'entertaining for the whole family.' [ Laughs ] I have a 9 year old and an 8 year old who actually watch the show pretty regularly, and it keeps their attention the whole time—which is pretty difficult to do at that age.
Sasha Cohen does a program that's the classic figure-skating beauty, with flexibility and fast spins; a lot of women like that number. There's [ also ] one rock-and-roll number we do, and Jennifer Robinson performs in that; it's a pretty sexy number, and some of the husbands like that. [ Laughs ] And there's something for the kids, too: Todd Eldridge does a number that's pretty funny. Everybody goes away happy.
And there are seats on the ice, which is one of the cool things. I get comments from people, saying that they've never been that close to Olympic-level figure skating. You see it on TV, but you don't really get the perspective of speed and power. You also realize how small the girls are, although they take up the whole TV screen.
WCT: How did you become interested in figure skating?
MW: I had two older sisters, and one of them was a world junior champion in diving, and I actually dove when I was younger. The other sister was a figure skater, and I followed her to the rink and tried on a pair of skates. I got a lot of praise and recognition from some of the coaches about how quickly I picked up some of the elements and maneuvers, and that's what continued to motivate me to get better and better.
When you're a young kid, any type of attention or acknowledgment or recognition that you get for doing something better than other kids ... you want even more. That's what motivated me to continue to skate. Now, years later, I'm performing each night, doing what I love and getting paid to do it.
WCT: What do you like most and least about touring?
MW: It's almost the same thing sometimes. You get to travel the world; by the time I was 25, I had seen everything—and that's cool. But I have [ two children ] and a wife at home, and the worst part is being away from them. It's [ tough ] balancing being on the road and being a family man. I've been able to do things seasonally, so I'm on the road for four to five months and the rest of time I'm able to be with my family. It's kind of a give and take; I'm gone for a long time but when I'm home, I'm completely devoted to them.
WCT: It's interesting that you talk about enjoying cities, because I kept thinking it'd be practice, practice, practice and that you wouldn't get to [ take in ] these cities.
MW: We do [ when we're ] on tour. We just had two and a half days off in San Diego, and my wife and kids flew to spend those days with me. The weather was perfect—75 degrees—and we were at SeaWorld and on the aircraft carrier USS Midway. Also, for my kids it's cool; for people who live on the West Coast, In-n-Out Burger is no big deal but for kids on the East Coast... My sons told all of his friends that he was going to In-n-Out Burger.
WCT: What do you think of the revised scoring system?
MW: I've competed under the old and new systems. Right now, it's kind of confusing for the spectators; it's difficult to understand all the details. [ The new system ] has potential to be good. Before you started with the 6.0, and if you made mistakes, [ the judges ] subtracted points. With this new system, you accumulate points for everything you do positively; you start at zero and a triple toe is four points and a triple axel is 7.5 points—but then the skaters learn what the best point-scoring elements are and they all do the exact same thing. Then, it starts to become a cookie-cutter performance. Also, [ judges' ] cheating is easier to hide in a system with many different nuances.
WCT: Now, you have this move called the 'tornado' [ a backflip with a full twist ] . How does one even come up with something like that?
MW: My dad was an Olympic gymnast, so I've been flipping and twisting since I was a kid. My dad actually taught [ skater ] Scott Hamilton his backflip when I was a kid, and then Scott tried to learn [ the tornado ] but was unsuccessful at being confident and comfortable enough to do it.
[ In 2002, ] the skaters were in town for a tour in my hometown of Washington, D.C., so they came over, and I have a trampoline that I grew up on. I could do [ the tornado ] on the trampoline, and the other skaters said, 'You have to do that on the ice.' In 2003, I did it for the first time in a performance—and, luckily, I survived it.
WCT: You also have a foundation. Could you talk a little bit about that?
MW: Sure. I started the Michael Weiss Foundation a few years ago. When I was a kid, my parents struggled to keep all of us in athletics—they were spending $50,000 a year to keep us skating. I always said that if I were in a situation where I could give back, I would. I am fortunate enough to use my resources and name to make money for the foundation and give scholarships to young kids. We've raised and awarded over $115,000 in scholarships for young figure skaters—and one of our recipients for the last couple of years, Mirai Nagasu, won the ladies' national championship this year. [ Editor's note: Another recipient, Adam Rippon, won the junior men's championship. ]
WCT: Figure skating is often stereotyped as a 'gay' sport. Do you have any comment on that?
MW: Like with any stereotype, it's about not understanding the sport. Figure skating certainly has its share of gay people in it, but I think it provides an atmosphere for gay people to be themselves and be open. If you go to football locker rooms, there are gay people there, but it's not as accepted for a football player to go out on the field with a sequined football helmet. But figure skating not only accepts it, but also rewards it, with grace, athleticism and ballet—but it's also a stereotype that you would consider gay people to be more graceful.
It's also something a lot of young figure skaters deal with growing up; some people will say that figure skating is for girls and not for boys. [ However, ] a lot of people have broken those molds: Elvis Stojko was very macho who did tae kwon do, and Scott Hamilton and Kurt Browning skate in jeans and T-shirts as opposed to the stereotypical figure-skating outfits. Football players get labeled as dumb jocks, and that's not true in all cases.
WCT: What do you consider the highlight of your career to be?
MW: I've had a number of great moments in competitive figure skating that I really enjoyed. One of my coolest moments was in [ the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics ] . Not many Olympic athletes get to perform in an Olympic games in their home country. All they had to do was announce my name and that I'm from the United States, and all the people in the venue were on my side. Then, to go out in front of those 18,000 people in the venue as well as millions of people behind the camera and perform one of the best programs in my life—including landing a quad-toe, triple-toe, double-loop combination, the first time anyone landed that [ combo ] in Olympic competition—and to finish my program to a standing ovation and see the Olympic rings was a pretty special moment for me.
WCT: One more question: Did you see Blades of Glory?
MW: [ Laughs ] Yes—it was hilarious. It was one of the funniest movies I've seen in years.
Smucker's Stars on Ice will perform at Allstate Arena Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25 and may be purchased at the Allstate Arena box office or Ticketmaster ticket centers; by logging onto www.ticketmaster.com; or by calling 312-559-1212.
For more info on Michael Weiss, see www.michaelweiss.org .