Yamaguchi, Kristi

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Kristi Yamaguchi

1971-

American figure skater

Just over a decade after Californian Kristi Yamaguchi walked away from the 1992 Winter Olympics with figure skating gold, she temporarily abandoned skating in favor of spending more time with her new husband and possibly starting a family. In the decade since her surprise victory in Albertville, France, Yamaguchi had skated professionally with Stars on Ice, touring extensively around the United States. "I love it," she told USA Today. "It's great what we do every night, and it is a thrill. But it is time to get off the road a bit."

In July of 2000, the gold medal-winning skater had married professional hockey player Bret Hedican on the big island of Hawaii. Although she still makes occasional appearances with her pals from the Stars on Ice tour, for now Yamaguchi is spending most of her time with Hedican. What made Yamaguchi's 1992 Olympic victory even sweeter was the fact that she won it in an upset victory over the favorite, Midori Ito of Japan, who had to settle for silver when the skating competition was over. A good deal of credit for her victory must go to her attitude. Yamaguchi had arrived at the Winter Games with one goal in mindenjoying the games. She clearly hoped to perform as well as possible on the ice, but she wasn't burdened by high expectations or a need to win. She made good on her plan to enjoy the Olympics, marching in the opening ceremonies, partying with other athletes, and focusing on her skating during practice sessions. Her relaxed, laid-back approach worked wonders for Yamaguchi, who handily won the short skate competition and, despite a fall during her long program, managed to make fewer errors than her closest competitors, securing the gold medal for the United States.

She was born Kristi Tsuya Yamaguchi in Hayward, California, on July 12, 1971. One of three children of Jim, a dentist, and Carole Yamaguchi, a medical secretary, she grew up in nearby Fremont. Both of Yamaguchi's parents were among the 120,000 Japanese Americans who spent time in internment camps during World War II. Father Jim was 4 years old when his family

was removed from its California ranch and transported to a camp in Arizona, where they spent the next three years. Kristi's mother, Carole, was actually born in a Colorado camp. Years later, Yamaguchi told the Chicago Tribune that her maternal grandfather "didn't talk much about World War II, but he let me know how proud he was to see me make it as an Asian American representing the United States. My parents let us know how fortunate we are now. Otherwise, they really don't look back on [internment] too much. It was just a time of a lot of fear in the country."

Yamaguchi was born with a deformity that caused both of her feet to point inward. To force her feet into their proper position, the infant was fitted with plaster casts reinforced with metal bars. Yamaguchi learned to walk with the casts, which were eventually removed and replaced with corrective shoes. Her mother encouraged her to become involved with hobbies and pastimes that involved her feet and legs, particularly dancing and skating. When Kristi was only 4 years old, she watched on television as Dorothy Hamill won a gold medal in figure skating at the 1976 Winter Olympics. Captivated by Hamill and her sport, Yamaguchi began taking skating lessons, during which she discovered a natural talent for the sport. Recalling those childhood lessons, Yamaguchi years later recalled in the San Jose Mercury News : "When I look back on it, I worked incredibly hard for a little kid. I would not get off the ice until I did some particular move right or until I did something! a certain number of times. From the time I was six, I kept bugging my mom, 'Let's go skating, let's go skating.'"

Takes Lessons Six Days a Week

Yamaguchi took lessons six days a week, starting at 5 in the morning and lasting five hours. After completing her daily studies with a private tutor, she either took dance lessons or trained in pairs skating. In 1982, at the age of 11, Kristi was paired with 13-year-old Rudy Galindo (he later changed the spelling of his first name to Rudi to match Kristi). The two were well matched in height and strength, and both were good technical skaters and showed style on the ice. Four years later, the two took bronze medals in pairs competition at the World Junior Figure Skating championship. The following year Yamaguchi and Galindo skated to gold at the world juniors competition. In January 1988, competing against adult skaters for the first time, the duo finished fifth in the pairs competition at the U.S. national championships. A year later, they'd improved enough to take the gold medal at the nationals. However, that same year the pair lost the only coach they'd ever had when Jim Hulick died of cancer. Although Yamaguchi and Galindo continued to skate together for awhile, the loss of Hulick was the beginning of the end for the pair. Shortly after the two won gold at the nationals and finished fifth in pairs competition at the worlds, Kristi announced her intention to leave pairs skating and concentrate on her singles career.

All through the years of pairs skating with Galindo, Yamaguchi had continued to compete in the ladies' singles and in 1989 had won silver at the nationals competition in Baltimore, Maryland. She skated to silver again at the nationals in 1990 and 1991 and began to worry that she'd reached her peak and would never attain that elusive gold medal. Reassurance came in the form of a gold medal in singles skating at the 1991 worlds. In early 1992 she won a matching gold medal at the nationals in Orlando, Florida.

Despite her gold medals, however, most skating experts expressed doubt that Yamaguchi could overcome the brilliance of Japanese skater Midori Ito at the 1992 Olympics. Ito, the first woman to perform a triple axel jump in competition, had been hampered by an injury at the 1991 worlds but arrived at the Olympics in excellent shape. However, Ito's hopes for gold were dashed when she fell while attempting a triple Lutz jump. During her long program, Yamaguchi took a spill on a triple loop jump but still made fewer errors than her competitors. In the end, the gold medal went to Yamaguchi, and Ito was forced to settle for silver.

Chronology

1971 Born in Hayward, California, on July 12
1976 Begins taking skating lessons
1982 Starts pairs skating, teaming with Rudi Galindo
1990 Withdraws from pairs skating
1992 Launches professional career, skating with Stars on Ice
2000 Marries pro hockey player Bret Hedican
2002 Pulls out of Stars on Ice tour to spend more time with family

Awards and Accomplishments

1986 Wins bronze medal in pairs (with Rudi Galindo) skating at World Junior Figure Skating championships
1987 Wins gold with Galindo at World Junior championships
1988 Finishes fifth in adult pairs competition at national championships
1989 Wins gold in pairs and silver in singles at national championships
1989 Finishes fifth in pairs competition at world championships
1989 Named Amatuer Skater of the Year by Skating magazine
1990 Wins silver in ladies' singles competition at U.S. national championships
1991 Wins silver in ladies' singles competition at U.S. national championships
1991 Wins gold in ladies' singles competition at world championships
1992 Wins gold in ladies' singles competition at national championships
1992 Wins gold medal at Winter Olympics in Albertville, France
1995 Chosen by U.S. Olympic Committee as one of the "Top 100 Olympic Champions in History"
1996 Named Skater of the Year by American Skating World
1998 Inducted into U.S. Figure Skating Association Hall of Fame

Joins Stars on Ice Tour

Shortly after her smashing success in Albertville, Yamaguchi retired from amateur competition to tour professionally with Stars on Ice. For the next 10 years, she toured throughout the country, also competing professionally. In July of 2000, Yamaguchi married professional hockey player Bret Hedican. A decade after joining Stars on Ice, she left the group, looking to spend more time with her husband and hopefully start a family. At the time she announced her retirement from Stars on Ice, Yamaguchi made it clear that she wasn't retiring from her sport but hoped to stay close to the ice, participating in skating specials on television. She said she was wary of touring but not of her sport. Whether or not she ever returns full time to skating, Yamaguchi will forever be remembered for her gold-winning performance at Albertville in 1992, bringing home the women's figure skating gold for the United States for the first time in 16 years.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: Kristi Yamaguchi, c/o International Management Group, 1 St. Clair Avenue East, Ste. 700, Toronto, Ontario M4T 2V7 Canada.

SELECTED WRITINGS BY YAMAGUCHI:

Pure Gold, HBJ School, 1997.

Related Biography: Figure Skater Midori Ito

The biggest obstacle on Yamaguchi's skate to Olympic gold was diminutive Japanese skater Midori Ito. A mere 4 feet, 9 inches tall, Ito was the odds-on favorite to win the gold medal at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville but ruined her chances to finish first with disastrous (and surprising) falls during both her short and long programs. The first woman ever to land a triple axel jump in competition, Ito fell attempting the first of two triple axels in her long program at Albertville and also during a triple Lutz in her short program. Although she became the first woman ever to land a triple axel at the Olympics when she successfully completed the second scheduled triple axel in her long program, Ito had to settle for silver. She was so disappointed by her Olympics performance that she publicly apologized to her countrymen for not winning the gold.

Born in Nagoya, Japan, on August 13, 1969, Ito began skating when she was 5 years old and was entering competitions by the time she turned 6. Her first big wins came in 1980 when she won both the All-Japan Juniors and the All-Japan Junior Freestyle. In November 1988, Ito landed her first triple axel jump in competition at the Aichi Prefecture Championship, winning the gold medal. Although she didn't attempt a triple axel jump at the 1988 Winter Olympics, she landed a number of other triple jumps and finished fifth. Shortly after taking the silver medal at the 1992 Olympics, Ito retired from amateur skating and turned professional. She was reinstated as an amateur in June 1995 but in November 1996 she again retired from eligible skating, citing health problems that made it difficult for her to withstand the rigors of amateur competition. Ito continues to skate professionally, performing 11 months of each year in Prince Ice World shows. She worked as a commentator for Japanese television during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

(With Greg Brown) Always Dream, Taylor Publishing, 1998.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Great Women in Sports. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996. Notable Asian Americans, Detroit: Gale Research, 1995. Sports Stars, Series 1-4. Detroit: UXL, 1994-1998.

Periodicals

Lynch, Jason, and Susan Horsburgh. "Melting the Ice Skating Back into the Limelight, Five Olympic Champions Star in TV Specials and Talk Up the Joys of Love and Marriage." People, (January 13, 2003): 125.

Parrish, Paula,. "A Fairy Tale Life: Ten Years Since Winning Olympic Gold, Kristi Yamaguchi Is Happier Than Ever." Denver Rocky Mountain News, (February 4, 2002): 16S.

Pedulla, Tom. "Yamaguchi Takes Act Off Road, Heads Home." AP Worldstream, (December 3, 2002).

Other

"Awards and Recognitions." Amy's Kristi Yamaguchi Fan Site. http://www.geocities.com/amyc521/awards.html (January 23, 2003).

"Kristi Yamaguchi: A Biography by Stuart." The Kristi Yamaguchi Web Page. http://www.polaris.net/~shanhew/biography/biography.html (January 21, 2003).

"A Midori Ito Biography." Midori Ito. http://www.mountaindragon.com/midori/mibio.htm (January 23, 2003).

"Profile of a Champion." Amy's Kristi Yamaguchi Fan Site. http://www.geocities.com/amyc521/profile.html (January 21, 2003).

Sketch by Don Amerman