Johnny Weir, figure skating's biggest attraction, retires

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Johnny Weir announced his retirement from competitive figure skating on Wednesday, with the sport's most fascinating character hanging up his skates after a career that was never short of intrigue and controversy.

Weir will swap the ice for the commentary booth, where he will give his opinions for NBC during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, presumably with the same flourish and mischief that he has displayed for the last 10 years.

"It is surreal writing about my career as if it had happened to someone else and to actually write the words, 'I am retiring from competitive figure skating,' " Weir said in a statement released to Us Weekly.

"I have cried my way through writing this entire column not because I am sad, or that I'll miss training or falling or being so nervous I thought my head would explode, or starving or the glory of victory or the agony of defeat, I cry because of the memories that have shaped my life."

Such words reveal much about Weir, one of the most eloquent athletes in Winter Olympic history, whose flair for the dramatic still knows no bounds.

The 29-year-old never won an Olympic medal, but he reached a level of fame and popularity far greater than most of those who have. The men's competition in Vancouver in 2010 featured a head-to-head battle between eventual gold medalist Evan Lysacek from the United States and Evgeni Plushenko of Russia, two opponents at the top of their game.

But Weir stole the show, with his extraordinary outfits, provocative routines and outspoken ways gaining him an army of new fans.

[Photo gallery: Johnny Weir's most outrageous outfits]

There were critics too. Animal rights groups hated him for using fur in his costumes, and a couple of boneheaded radio pundits claimed he should be gender tested.

At the time Weir had not revealed his sexuality; that would come later, in the form of a well-written autobiography released after the Games where he came out of the closet and offered a deeper insight into his life.

Weir is now married to Victor Voronov, a Georgetown educated lawyer whose family is originally from Russia. That personal situation, combined with Russia's controversial anti-gay rights legislation, provides a potentially tricky scenario once Sochi rolls around.

"If I get arrested, I get arrested," Weir said.

There were some in figure skating who seemed determined to dislike Weir and he frequently battled with the governing bodies, who wished for him to conform to a more family-friendly approach and cut down on the sequins and pelvic thrusting.

They were wasting their time, in more ways than one. Not only does Weir refuse to be told what to do, but also his fame or notoriety – call it what you will – was actually the kind of publicity a niche sport typically craves.

His crossover appeal resulted in a television reality show and forays into the fashion world, gaining a fresh army of fans both in the U.S. and around the world.

Figure skating will miss Johnny Weir, but armed with a microphone and a national platform, he surely won't be out of the spotlight for long.