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Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir takes break for fundraiser

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WILMINGTON, Del. — How dedicated is Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir to his hometown training rink, The Skating Club of Wilmington?

When the Delaware resident was recently cast in a new Netflix ice skating drama called “Spinning Out,” he was to be in Canada filming the show’s first season next weekend when the skating club hosts its annual fundraiser.

But he “pushed hard” to be able to escape for the benefit and will perform on the second night of the two-day “America Skates: Spring Ice Show” on April 5 and 6.

“I’m jumping right off a plane to help raise money for this historic rink,” Weir, 34, who recently purchased a new home in Greenville, told The News Journal.

Weir has been an honorary member of the skating club for more than a decade and has been training there in recent years “whenever I’m not running around the world,” says Weir, a lead NBC Sports figure skating analyst.

“They have been so accommodating with my schedule and make it possible even for me to train in the middle of the night,” says Weir, a two-time Olympian and three-time U.S. national champion, who won the bronze medal at World Figure Skating Championships in 2008.

The skating club, which first opened in 1964, will host about 170 performers across the two-night event, including special celebrity guest skaters, such as Weir.

Pairs team Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov and skater Ting Cui are also scheduled to perform.

Both shows are at 7 p.m. and each cost $25-$70 (adults), $15 (teens 13-19) and $10 (children 12 and younger). Tickets can be purchased at skatewilm.com.

The show’s artistic director, former Olympic ice dancer Irina Romanova, says the annual benefit is integral to the club’s ability to survive as a unique member-owned and operated entity.

“It’s the No. 1 fundraiser for the club,” she says. “I’m kind of dying every year doing this, but I know I cannot give it up because without it we wouldn’t be able to have our next show.”

Weir has twice before performed at the skating club’s spring fundraiser and says he’s dedicated to its livelihood: “It’s important for me that skaters across the country, even in small states like Delaware, know that they can achieve their dreams just like I did. Coming from the greater Philadelphia area, it is especially important to me to support local rinks and to keep skating alive in our community.”

While Weir has been busily preparing two new numbers for an upcoming tour in Japan at the club in recent months, fans won’t be seeing those on April 6.

Instead, Weir says, “I’ll be pulling out an old fan favorite that I hope makes the audience smile.”

Over the years, Weir has parlayed his figure skating career into the entertainment and fashion careers, becoming a bona fide celebrity thanks to his lovable, outgoing personality and head-turning style.

His longevity shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, it was a dozen years ago when the Will Ferrell ice skating comedy “Blades of Glory” featured a character partially inspired by Weir.

He also starred in his own reality series, “Be Good Johnny Weir,” which aired on Sundance TV back in 2010.

Weir will join co-stars Kaya Scodelario and January Jones on “Spinning Out,” which was first announced in October with Weir being added to the cast two months later.

He says he’s had an incredible experience so far: “I never had the acting bug before, but now that I’m actually doing it and living that life, I really enjoy it.”

It won’t be Weir’s first time acting. In fact, Weir landed on an episode of the Fox animated comedy “Family Guy” just four months ago.

In the Olympics-themed episode, both he and fellow NBC figure skating analyst Tara Lipinski appear, playing themselves.

On the episode, the openly gay skater pokes fun at both at his sexuality and fashion choices.

In one scene, he is seen picking trash off the ground, sticking it to his outfit and proclaiming, “Now it’s clothes!”

In another scene, he wears a comically over-sized hat and reveals that he’s not actually gay to Stewie, the show’s talking baby. In fact, Weir tells him had been pretending to get closer to Lipinski.

Weir’s voice suddenly changes to a deep, gruff tone and he explains, “This is my voice. Do you think I actually talk like that? That’s just something I do to get the skater chicks.”

Born in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, Weir trained for his first Olympics in Delaware and has had a connection with the state ever since.

With Weir training in Wilmington and a new home in Greenville, the fashionable star can regularly be spotted in Northern Delaware, eating at his favorite restaurants or shopping around town.

“Delaware has been a major part of my life,” Weir says. “I am a true citizen of the world, but it is wonderful to have someplace quiet to come home to where I don’t have to shave or wear a sparkly blazer.

“My quiet country lifestyle is just the balance I need to keep up with my hectic work life.”

MORE: Takeaways and top moments from the World Figure Skating Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2018-19 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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