Johnny Weir entered Wednesday's news conference at the 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with an operatic flair, his two unsmiling coaches flanking him, his gray, boa-like scarf the only item of clothing Team Weir wore that wasn't black.
Twenty minutes later, the figure skater exited, only to return quickly to proudly recount the story of the fan who showed up at Wednesday morning's practice with Weir's name tattooed on her ankle.
"I want you all to find out," he said, bending to speak into a microphone, "if any other fan has ever tattooed a skater's name on their body."
In between, a philosophical Weir dealt with the question that had been on the minds of men's figure-skating observers all year: Why has this two-time defending national champion slumped?
"Coming here this week is not about perfection," Weir said a day before today's start of the men's and women's competition. "It's about me getting back to my comfort zone."
Apparently, several factors conspired to evict Weir from that zone. He followed his second consecutive national title with a series of disappointing finishes: fourth at the 2005 world championships in Moscow, seventh at Skate Canada, fourth at the Campbell's Classic in St. Paul, Minn.
There was a troubled personal relationship - the details of which he declined to provide. There was the ankle injury he suffered in October. And, maybe most significantly, there was the sport's complex new scoring system, which forced him to rapidly re-imagine his entire program.
"I never thought all those things would affect my skating," said Weir, his mouth just above the top of a high black turtleneck that cuddled his chin, "but they did. I wasn't skating consistently. Then I would go home angry, and that would affect my relationships with friends, family."
If Weir can regather himself this week, one of the three U.S. Olympic spots to be determined here would appear to be his. But neither he nor last year's runner-up, Timothy Goebel, has been skating well. In fact, Evan Lysacek, the other major contender here, who was third in 2005, might be the favorite in a mixed-up men's field that includes Michael Weiss, 29.
"We've always had great depth in our men," Lysacek said. "Certainly we have it this year. And what I think is so wonderful about the top four is that each one has a completely different style."