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Kristi Yamaguchi Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Olympic Gold

02/21/2012 at 03:30 PM ET
Keara, Kristy and Emma at Rockefeller Center – Courtesy Kristi Yamaguchi

Can it really be 20 years since Kristi Yamaguchi won an Olympic gold medal in women’s figure skating?

“I know!” the ever-youthful looking Yamaguchi, now 40, tells PEOPLE with a laugh.

“It’s hard to believe, but 1992 in Albertville was a big deal because not only was it the Olympics, but that’s where my husband (Bret Hedican, who played for the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team) and I met.”

The couple married in July 2000 and have two daughters: Keara Kiyomi, 8, and Emma Yoshiko, 6.

Since becoming the first Asian-American to win gold in the ladies single category on Feb. 21, 1992, Yamaguchi has gone on to become a fitness advocate, a Dancing with the Stars champion and children’s author.

Her debut, 2011’s Dream Big, Little Pig, made the New York Times best seller list. Next month the sequel, It’s a Big World, Little Pig, will be released.

The new book “is a continuation of Poppy the Pig’s story,” Yamaguchi explains. “She experiences her first international travel and is anxious about traveling outside of her country, and also worried about meeting friends that are different from her. It’s all about embracing each other’s differences and finding something that they have in common.”

The inspiration for the story came from Yamaguchi’s own experiences as a young skater. When she was 14, Yamaguchi and her then-pairs skating partner Rudy Galindo, competed at the Junior World Championships in Sarajevo.

“I vividly remember my first international competition and the excitement of meeting skaters who didn’t speak English and who were fascinated with Levis because they were so Western,” she notes. “It was such an eye-opening experience. It taught me at such a young age to appreciate people from different countries and cultures.”

Now Yamaguchi and Galindo are teaming up again — sort of. Last November Yamaguchi’s younger daughter, Emma, expressed an interest in following in Mom’s footsteps and longtime pal Galindo agreed to teach her.

“I’m not holding my breath or building my hopes up,” laughs Yamaguchi. “I told her, ‘That means you have to practice and take lessons.'”

Yamaguchi says she and Hedican, 41, have the same philosophy about their daughter taking to the ice.

“We’re not going to push her to be competitive. We will take it step by step and let her dictate how involved she wants to get,” explains Yamaguchi. “It’s a great sport and you can learn a lot from it, even if you’re not going to be an elite skater.”

The most important thing, she says, is that her daughter has fun.

“I remember the joy I got out of it as a young child,” Yamaguchi recalls. “If she wants to compete, I’ll support her and encourage her, and if she decides not to, I’m fine with that, too.”

– Monica Rizzo

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Showing 38 comments

Amy on

Kristi made me want to be a professional ice skater as a child. Nevermind the fact that I live in Tennessee and have never been around ice skating!! HA! But she was my idol growing up. She is still youthful-looking as ever!

Tee on

Wow, hard to believe it’s been 20 years! That’s a sweet picture!

Mark on

No scandals, no diva debacles and no embarrassing interludes – many of today’s athletes could learn a lesson in decorum from Kristi Yamaguchi. Way beyond race and ethnicity, Ms Yamaguchi was and still is a class act, on and off the ice.

Peggy Smith on

Love Kristi and her daughters are darling!

LPW on

Yes, it’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years. Kristi is a phenomenal athlete and an impressive human being. Congrats to her on her lovely family and literary success.

Shannon on

20 years? No way! She looks exactly the same.

Julie on

She’s a classy lady with a beautiful family. Her kids are adorable.

Chi on

20 years! I can’t believe it!

Kelly on

WOW! 20 years ago Kristi won an Olympic Gold Medal, and she is still in the public eye doing great things. What an inspiration and a role model. Thank you, Kristi!

gigi on

her book ‘Dream Big Little Pig’ is just the cutest book ever!

Jennifer on

I am also Asian American, and also grew up in the same area of California (the Bay Area) as Kristi. I am amazed how down to Earth she is, and doesn’t let fame get to her. She has given hope and inspiration to the Asian American culture, and she defiantly someone that I have looked up to growing up.

She still knows where she came from, and never misses an opportunity to give back to the community. Every holiday season, she sponsors a small ice skating rink in San Francisco where the public can skate. That way the pubic can enjoy skating the same way she did. SHE IS A CLASS ACT!!!

Matt on

Kristi is as beautiful as ever with a couple of great looking kids.

Congrats to Kristi keep up the good work.

m on

Cute kids!

Marion on

Kristi looks great–she’s just as beautiful as she was when she won the gold 20(!) years ago, if not more so. Her daughters are adorable!

Cinder Lou on

I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since we saw Kristi capture gold in Albertville. She’s just as beautiful and charming as ever, and her daughters are adorable.

PDXsara on

Kristi, your girls are beautiful!

cypresstex on

Thank you Kristy : you are a class act !

Lacia C on

I remember when Kristi won in 1992, in fact I was just looking up her amateur skating performances on Youtube a month ago, hers and Paul Wylie’s Olympic freeskate from 1992 — still fabulous after 20 years! I remember the days when she trained in Edmonton with Kurt Browning (another fab skater from the 1990s) and later skated pro with Stars on Ice. She always conducted herself well and was a consistent skater.

I am thrilled to hear she & Rudy Galindo are still friends, he admitted he was devastated when Kristi decided to compete only in singles after 1990, so that is great they are still in each other’s lives today.

Anonymous on

Thank you, KY, for showing that not all superstars need to be classless when their “reign” ends. You are appreciated as a role model.

Jenna on

WOW!!!!!! 20 years!!!!! Where in the world does the time go?!? It’s SO nice and refreshing to see that a celebrity knows how to act and NOT become a spectacle in the public eye. I remember her competing on DWTS-I was totally impressed with her performances. And to hear that she is doing well with her family makes me very happy! :-D Would LOVE to see her do some more skating…..she was one of the skaters who made it look SOOOO easy and beautiful. If you do some more performing, make sure one of your stops is in Pittsburgh, PA-I will definately attend the event!

Jennifer on

Goodness, has it really been 20 years?? First I celebrate my birthday yesterday, and now this? Wow, feeling old doesn’t even begin to cover it…lol!!

Michelle on

Love her. What a classy lady!

ChristineLA on

I cannot believe it has been 20 years since Kristi Yamaguchi won her gold medal! She is and always has been a complete and total class act. I really wish more athletes had the her professionalism and grace. She was everything that is good about the Olympics, and still is!

Susan Lewis on

Doesn’t seem that long.

Then again, the world was so distracted with the Tonya/Nancy soap opera, it’s easy to forget Kristi was the one who won the gold.

Linda on

I had the privilege of meeting Kriti during my 10-years working at the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs. She has always upheld the Olympic standards on the ice and off. She is a wonderful person, top notch athlete and the best role model for children we could have.

meghan on

I’m not sure how you got distracted, Susan Lewis, since the drama around Tonya Harding occurred in 1994, not 1992. Kristi did not compete in ’94. She went pro after the ’92 games. The 1994 games’ medals went to Oksana Baiul (Gold) Nancy Kerrigan (Silver) and Lu Chen (Bronze) Tonya Harding placed eighth.

Ellie on

@Lacia C
I don’t think they are very close though. It was Kristi’s mother, who asked Galindo whether he would train Kristi’s daughter when she saw Galindo at an event. Galindo said he had to see Emma on ice before deciding. After a trial training, they asked Emma if she liked the coach and she said yes. That’s how Emma became one of Galindo’s students.

Ann on

Susan Lewis, Kristi won the gold two years before the drama occured. There was no distraction back then

Lacia C on

@ Ellie – ooh thanks for the background info!

Sandy on

Always loved her and what a beautiful family she has.

I too cannot believe it’s been 20 years. She looks great- but most importantly- happy.

Peggy on

Kudos to Kristi for still being a Class A individual. I have always admired her, both as a person and performer, and nothing has happened to change my opinion. Her daughters are as beautiful as she was and is. During her time in the limelight, I was one of the most dedicated fans of ice skating, and it was my joy to be able to see Stars on Ice in Greenville, SC I actually cried, I was so happy to be there. Know you have many, many, many fans out here, Kristi, who love you and the art of ice skating. Thanks to you and a few other really great ones…Always love from this fan….

Amy on

Her daughters are adorable and Kristi looks fantastic.

Shawol on

Love Kristi. I named my favorite (Asian) Barbie after her when I was little and played with her until her head came off after which I still reused to get rid of her. Kristi is so beautiful, talented, and down to earth. Not to mention her daughters are adorable.

Alexandra Cesteros on

I had the privilege to interview Kristi for her Golden decade celebration. She was my inspiration growing up and still amazes me. http://usfsa.org/Magazine.asp?Issue=294

Michelle on

Kristi Y and Nancy K were my first idols- at 3 years old I wanted to be them, skating around my vinyl kitchen floor in my socks during the olympics, drinking milk out of my sippy cup.

Michelle K and Tara L were my second set of heroes. I did reports about them in school and I talked about them INCESSANTLY and even bought books about them.

And yet I never took a skating lesson in my life. Hm.

I wish Kristi all the best, she continues to be a role model for me as a human and as a parent (i GREATLY admire her not pushing her daughters to do what they may not want to.) In the future I hope i will allow my children the same choice.

Louisa on

Amazing woman and one who deserves all the good. I don’t think I have ever seen or read anything bad about her. No wardrobe malfunctions or trash actions to get attention. A true class act.

CJ on

Ms. Yamaguchi is a class act, that much is obvious. What I find most amazing, and gratifying, is the fact that there is not one negative or snide post about her. Unlike so many other positive stories where at least one person has to be negative or unkind.

Apparently not only does Ms. Yamaguchi bring out the best in herself, but in others as well. Thank you, for inspiring the best of humanity – it is refreshing.

Marky on

Have always loved watching Kristi skate, and observing this young woman live he life since the Olympics has proven she is every bit the fantastic young woman we thought she was! Her daughters are adorable, too!

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