Since then, Weir's answered in the way that counts, physically and psychologically reconditioning himself. In December, he was one of six male skaters in a Grand Prix event in Tokyo, a competition for which he barely qualified. Lysacek won, but Weir skated flawlessly (some suggest better than Lysacek) and finished third. Now it's full steam ahead to the nationals, which will determine if he, Lysacek, or both make the Olympic team.

But today Weir looks grim. His formidable coach, Galina Zmievskaya (mother-in-law of the great Russian champion Viktor Petrenko), is stationed on the ice, barking commands at him in Russian. Weir, stone-faced, replies in Russian (he's fluent). Because he looks lithe and almost wispy on television, the raw physical strength with which he jumps is startling to witness. (If you doubt what it takes, just try lifting yourself in the air and spinning around three times before you land on one leg. Now do it on blades—100 times.) Weir falls hard, more than once. Tersely articulated Slavic phrases fly through the air.

"You came on a bad day," he says amiably while changing in a tiny closetlike space where other skaters dump their gym bags. "She kicked me off the ice this morning." Weir is, by his own admission, a "headstrong, indignant" guy who is comically aware of his rep as "you know, the diva bitch whore from hell," but his coach is "very much the boss. I need someone stronger than me—someone to whip me into submission." It's not always easy. "I'm a 25-year-old kid, basically. If I was normal, I'd be having sex and experimenting with drugs and drinking a lot and just enjoying being a young person. But I have to be very responsible. I've been drug-tested since I was 12. I've been on a diet since I was 15." As for sex, "if you come in and even look like you had it—even if you haven't—she'll call you on it. She'll say, 'No sex, not even with your hand!' It's crazy! If one person in Russia lost a competition in 1902 because he had sex, it'll filter down to me. Because skating never changes."

It is hard not to love Weir, in part because he is so completely uninterested in being loved by America's sports-industrial complex. He's just all wrong. Although he grew up in Pennsylvania and Delaware and is close to his family, he is completely "obsessed with the mystery and romanticism" of pre-Soviet-era Russia and is passionate about Russian ballet; he even wears a red-and-white RUSSIA warm-up jacket. Lysacek wants to be Roger Federer; Weir stars in his own Sundance Channel reality show, Be Good Johnny Weir, skates to "Poker Face," and reports delightedly that he has now met "the Gaga." Lysacek practices morning to night; Weir puts in four, maybe five hours a day, saying bluntly, "I don't want to spend my life on an ice cube." Lysacek is monomaniacal and disdains multitasking: Weir lives on his cell phone and tweets and loves fashion and music and lists his favorite films and bars and boutiques and jewelry on his web site.