Kristi Yamaguchi: ‘Family Is My Priority Now’

02/18/2014 at 05:00 PM ET

Jessica Simpson Daughter Maxwell Instagram Photo Courtesy Kristi Yamaguchi

Growing up in the spotlight, Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi relied heavily on her parents to keep her going.

“There are a lot of times when you doubt yourself, or have a disappointing experience, and it’s really that unconditional love and support I got from my mom in particular, and her words of encouragement, that got me back up to continue to believe in myself,” she tells PEOPLE.

And though her daughters aren’t taking to the ice in front of millions at Sochi this season — they’re only 8 and 10, after all! — Yamaguchi finds herself falling into her mother’s shoes these days.

“I see my roles turning into the direction where now I’m the support system, and hoping to do whatever I can to help encourage my girls and pick them up when they need it — and hopefully help them achieve their dreams. Family is my priority now.”

That’s in part why Yamaguchi was the right person to promote P&G’s adorable “Pick Them Back Up” campaign, which focuses on the roles moms play in the lives of Olympic athletes — and all children. “For these athletes in Sochi, that support system is important and I’m sure it’s what’s helping get through everything,” she says.

Though she’s in Sochi with P&G and working with the U.S. Olympic Committee (her husband, former ice hockey player Bret Hedican is there doing radio commentary on hockey, too), Yamaguchi says that daughters Keara and Emma don’t quite get yet why mom is so famous.

“They know something big happened,” she explains. “My younger one, Emma, sometimes asks, ‘Why does everyone know your name?’ But I try to explain, especially when they sit down and watch the Olympics, ‘Look, we’re watching this, a lot of people do, and that’s why they got to know me.'”

Yamaguchi admits she doesn’t skate as often as she’d like anymore — “probably a handful of times a month I’ll go out there and skate around for fun,” she says — but daughter Emma is starting to follow in mom’s footsteps a bit.
“She has an interest in skating — for her it’s just recreational — but she has fun with it, and I’m not trying to push her too hard,” Yamaguchi shares. “It’s fun to watch her enjoy the sport.”

Watching her daughters interact with their dad — and with each other — is fun for the doting mom, too.

“Bret is a great dad, and the girls just adore him,” she says. “And together, they have a really strong sisterly bond. I’m glad at this point, at this age, they still get along, because I’m not sure how those teenage years will be!”

— Kate Hogan

RELATED: Catch up on all the latest Olympic news and photos!

FILED UNDER: Exclusive , News , Parenting

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sfmom on

Awww…I love seeing her with her daughters.

I was 8 when she won her gold medal in ’92 and I was obsessed. This year I have a 7 yr old daughter who is watching the Olympics with me and just the other day we went ice skating together for the first time, just like I went with my dad for the first time in ’92.

Somehow Kristi Yamaguchi is rolled up into all of these happy memories as a source of nostalgia and inspiration.

PG on

So great to see a superstar staying out the the spotlight and enjoying what really matters-her family!

chris on

How sweet..I’m so glad to see her again. I loved watching her skate and I hope someday to see one of her girls.

sable senegal on

Kristy is from my hood in the bay area Fremont calif.she is really olympic gold medal champion on and off the ice.her family is her top priority, she also won dancing with the stars!

Anahusrque on

I grew up watching her and is such great joy to see her again! A great role model, wonferful mother to her children. I sure hope to see her more! We love her!