On camera, Lysacek runs through paragraphs of copy. He makes sure to say "Smucker's Stars on Ice" many times. He adjusts his warm-up jacket so that the sponsor logo is visible. When his voice slips into a kind of autopilot cadence, his publicist groans, "Terrible! Too artificial!"
"I'm trying to be wholesome!" he says, grinning. "How's this? 'We're all busy working on our programs—just for you! Are you wet with anticipation? Because we are!' "
The thing is, Lysacek actually is wholesome. The red-outlined beginning of a Greek Orthodox cross on his left biceps and a taste for extreme sports—he'd like figure skating to incorporate something like the half-pipe—are as badass as he gets, though he'd go further if he could. "Our sport is so steeped in tradition," he says, "and most of the judges are 55-plus. So you can't skate to Kanye West or Jay-Z, or skate wearing a wife beater. But why not?"
Lysacek's detractors used to write him off as a machine, long on power and short on style. A few years back, when Weir was wiping the ice with him, he says, "I got to a point where I was elite technically, but I was finishing third and second and third and second. I was like, 'What do I have to do to get to that top step?'"
The answer: Adopt some of Weir's theatrics and flair, if not his perceived excess. Lysacek promptly went to work with a world-class ice choreographer, educated himself about classical music and the emotional expressiveness of dance, and enlisted Wang, the noted dress designer, to costume him. "There are definitely skaters who are more graceful than I am," he says, "but I'm proud of taking a big step outside my comfort zone."
WEIR: "You know, the diva bitch whore from hell."
Twenty-five miles and several light-years from Rockefeller Center, Johnny Weir is in the Ice Vault, a modest rink in Wayne, New Jersey. The banners above the empty bleachers trumpet local hockey teams like the Jersey Hitmen and the Mahwah Thunderbirds. It's hard to tell whether this blue-collar suburb even cares that it has a three-time U.S. champion in its midst. Weir took the title in 2004, '05, and '06, then lost to Lysacek in '07 and '08. Last winter, he finished fifth at the nationals and didn't even qualify for the worlds. Then he had to watch Lysacek win the world championship, something no American skater had done in more than a dozen years.
"It was very rough," Weir says. "I felt like I wanted to quit skating because I had no support." He has always had a testy relationship with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, a conservative group that hasn't taken to his streaked hair, his outrageous costumes (even for skating—they provided the inspiration for Jon Heder's look in Blades of Glory), and his tendency to speak his mind. "And I had no energy or drive. You know, it's not easy waking up every morning feeling like an 85-year-old man in a 25-year-old body." But Weir wasn't ready to accept a narrative in which Lysacek was the ascendant king of the sport while he, a mere year older, was yesterday's news. After losing to Lysacek in a squeaker in the 2008 nationals, he remarked to a reporter, "I just don't like him," and later mocked his tan, his height, his X-Games vibe, his "big white teeth." Lysacek, who has little taste for trash-talking or even discussing Weir, sneered back, belittling those who think "dressing up is like having glitter all over you—to me that's just such a joke."