Don't let the new North Jersey address fool you. Or the new Russian coaches. Or the new Russian choreographer. Or the new Russian music. Or the new Russian training regimen.
Johnny Weir, unlike the swan he portrayed in his most famous skating routine, is incapable of transformation.
Despite relocating, redesigning Team Weir and rededicating himself in an effort to win a fourth national title this week and an Olympic gold medal in 2010, the Coatesville-born figure skater remains what he has always been - as outspoken off the ice as he is graceful on it.
On his personal website and in a telephone interview before leaving for this week's 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul, Weir displayed his diva side, a catty candor that he acknowledged often turns people off.
"Not everyone can relate to me," he said, when asked if he felt he could help improve the sport's sagging TV ratings. "My personality is a little bit harsh for some people. So I'm definitely not going to be that person that can get the little girls plus their mothers plus their fathers plus their gay brothers to watch skating."
Coached now by Galina Zmievskaya, his idol Oksana Baiul's diminutive mentor, and refocused on his sport, the 23-year-old could well recapture his men's title from 2007 champion Evan Lysacek. That would give him four titles in five years.
But whether that happens or not, the Weir who loves to wear boas, who has posed for a gay men's fashion magazine, who never has met a controversy he didn't happily confront, knows he won't ever be the popular face of American skating.
And it's not just his emphatically androgynous personna. Though there have always been whispers about his sexuality, Weir has never openly addressed it. It's more that he is too - and he hates this word - flamboyant, too willing to speak without a filter, to tackle every question, to feel every slight.
Take a recent entry on his website.
A lover of all things Russian, Weir was upset when, after that nation honored him with a "Love of Russia" award, the U.S. Olympic Committee and American skating officials failed to acknowledge it when he returned home.
"I didn't see anything," he wrote. "I know it's interesting when Evan Lysacek attends a movie premiere, and I could pee myself with glee if Kimmie Meissner throws out one more pitch at a baseball game, but I actually won something! I am very proud of it and that's why I'm ranting, forgive me!
"To me the award signified something very special. . . . Considering past and current relations between the two countries, I think it's marvelous that a little white kid from Pennsylvania is presented an award from one of Russia's greatest Olympic champions, Alexei Yagudin."
Weir subsequently apologized for his rant. Still, he doesn't figure to be sharing a cab to the Xcel Energy Center this week with any of his American counterparts.
As for Lysacek, the Californian who ended Weir's streak of three straight U.S. titles a year ago in Spokane and has to be considered the men's favorite this week, Weir offhandedly dismissed him.
"It doesn't matter so much what he does in life, or on the ice, or what his results are," Weir said. "He's just another person that's there in my opinion."
How about the women's competition, in which Meissner, the University of Delaware freshman who is the defending champion, will try to fight off a host of young and tiny challengers, led by two 14-year-olds, Caroline Zhang and Mirai Nigasu?
"Right now in the U.S. we have babies competing in the ladies divison," he said. "They're all so young and it's very impressive what they do, but they don't have, in my opinion, the star quality that, say, Katerina Witt or Oksana Baiul have.
"They don't have the kind of magnetism that draws in, not only the young girls and the middle-aged women who usually watch figure skating, but also the husbands of those wives and the young teenage guys that want to watch a hot girl skate around in a short dress."
How about ice dancing, where Tabith Belbin and Ben Agosto are gunning for a fifth straight U.S. title?
"There are people in figure skating who don't even view it as a real sport," he said.
Though he seems uncapable of censoring himself, Weir did take stock of his career after he flamed out at the 2007 U.S. championships, finishing third behind Lysacek and Ryan Bradley.
That loss was so traumatic that it triggered an upheaval in his life, sparked an internal fire in the skater who discovered the sport as a 12-year-old in an frozen Amish cornfield.
"The fire comes from the disappointments of last season," he said. "I've really changed my entire life. I've changed my coach, my choreographer, my home, my home state. I changed everything I could about my life."
Last spring, he said goodbye to longtime coach Pam Gregory, and to Newark, Del., where he'd practiced and lived with his parents, who had relocated there to allow their son to train at The Pond.
He hooked up with Zmievskaya, a notoriously stern taskmaster, and another Russian coach, Nina Petrenko. He switched choreographers, bringing in Faye Kitarieva. He got Russian composers to create original music for new short and long programs.
"I think I'm better trained than I have been any other year going into nationals," Weir said. "Last year was very rough for me. Honestly I can say I didn't deserve to take a spot away from another competitor at last year's nationals. I was uninspired, unprepared. I didn't really want to compete. . . . There was no way I was going to win.
"This year, I'm going for fourth title, and that's what I'm focused on. I want to show everyone in skating how hard I've worked to never let a third-place national championship happen again."
To work with Zmievshaya, Weir had to move to Lyndhurst, N.J., where he is now living alone for the first time. Initially, he missed his parents, missed Delaware, missed Pennsylvania.
Since then, he's adjusted. He's mastered the art of North Jersey trafiic, even all the jughandle turns. He goes into New York at least once a week for lunch, dinner and shopping.
"The first week I lived alone, I slept with a huge kitchen knife next to my bed," he said. "I was very nervous to be alone and in a strange state so far away from my family. I made myself busy just cleaning and organizing the apartment, but I was a little homesick.
"But I knew I needed to change my coaches and my training regimen. It was necessary for me to be a champion and to fight for the next Olympic gold medal."