Yamaguchi comes home with two other skating Golden Girls
||January 26, 2002|
It's been 10 years, and Kristi Yamaguchi still remembers her first
glide across an Olympic ice rink. It's been 14 years, and Katarina
Witt's face still grows intense as she discusses her commitment to
victory and the Olympic spirit. It's been barely four years, and Tara
Lipinski is happy to be in show biz and not the Olympic biz, being
judged by smiles and applause, not by judges with emotionless faces
and subjective scores to post.
All those flashing memories, all those decisive competitions, all
those Olympic experiences mesh to form the heart and soul of "Target
Stars on Ice," the sophisticated figure skating revue that will glide
into Target Center on Tuesday night.
The show's title is "Gold: Winning Was Just the Beginning." And
with these three, that's the stone cold truth.
Take Yamaguchi, who won her gold medal a decade ago next month in
Albertville, France. With the next Winter Olympics then just two years
away in Lillehammer, Norway, (that's when Olympic officials began to
stagger the Winter and Summer Olympic years), Yamaguchi could have
returned for a second gold medal at the 1994 Winter Games. She was
only 22. She had the stuff.
"But I felt I had lived beyond what I ever dreamed of," Yamaguchi
said by phone from Spokane, Wash. "I wouldn't have gained anything
more by going back to the Olympics, except maybe a place in history,
which I wasn't after."
She was, she said, "after artistic freedom," not the grueling
routine of preparing six, seven, eight triple jumps and combination
jumps that Olympic-level competition demanded.
She turned to "Stars on Ice," established six years earlier by 1984
men's Olympic gold medalist and longtime show-stopper Scott
Hamilton. Hamilton has left the ensemble, although he still is a
co-producer, but his absence allows the top of the marquee to be
shared by three of the four most recent women's Olympic figure skating
gold medalists, reaching back to '84, when Witt, then the symbol of
East German seriousness and allure, won the first of her two
golds. (Only 1994's Oksana Bauil isn't in the show.)
The "Stars on Ice" tour has become "an amazing vehicle," said
Yamaguchi, for each of the gold medalists to reveal their distinct
personalities: Witt, 36, mature, provocative, European to the hilt;
Lipinski, still only 19, a bundle of energy, and Yamaguchi, 30, the
performer's performer, on ice during the "Stars" show seven times --
"too much," she jokes -- including a return to pairs skating, which
was once a competitive avenue for her.
Yamaguchi will be the center of attention in "Stars on Ice" this
week because to a certain extent she's coming home.
For part of the year, Yamaguchi lives in Minnesota, in a house on
Gull Lake, near Brainerd. Yamaguchi was born and raised in the San
Francisco Bay area. She met North St. Paul's Bret Hedican, a former
St. Cloud State hockey player, at the '92 Olympics. He was a member of
the U.S. Olympic hockey team. Hedican went on to become an NHL
standout -- he was recently traded to the Carolina Hurricanes -- and
at the opening of a new arena in Vancouver in 1995, the two renewed
The rest is ice romance history. To get out of frozen buildings
during the summer months, Yamaguchi and Hedican spend lots of time
"It's a world away from the busy-ness of California," said
Yamaguchi, who also has a condo in San Francisco and a house in Reno,
Nev. "When I'm at the lake during the summer, I start getting that
Minnesota accent down. I guess I'm part Minnesotan, part West Coast."
She, Witt and Lipinski are also part athlete, part actress, part
vaudev ille, part MTV.
"Showgirls," said Witt during a recent visit to the Twin Cities.
Still, it's sports, and the Winter Olympics, that stamped them with
the gold they still flaunt today.
"I remember that first practice, that first glide over the Olympic
rings," Yamaguchi said of what flashes in her mind 10 years after
winning the gold medal. The five rings were imprinted in the
Albertville's arena ice. "Skating over them was like, 'Wow! this is
really the Olympics!' I remember skating around and seeing [1988
Olympic competitors] Brian Boitano and Brian Orser at the side of the
ice. I waved and thought, 'Oh, my God, it's my turn now!' " she
screeched over the phone.
For Witt, there were three Winter Olympic moments. She won gold in
'84 and over American Debi Thomas in 1988, with a cool perfection that
revealed the athlete deep inside her. But in 1994, in Norway, with
only remote chances of winning a medal, Witt returned to the Olympic
stage with a purpose: "To use the art form to bring a message across."
That message was to remember the plight of Sarajevo, the city in
what then was Yugoslavia where she won that '84 gold. Her Lillehammer
performance will be remembered for its emotion and its rare nod to
politics in a sport too often devoid of serious themes.
And Lipinski thinks not so much of the feeling of just four years
ago in Japan, but the circumstances of her victory. Winning over the
crowd in Nagano was easy; she was an eye-catching whirling dervish. It
was those inscrutable judges, who hold the figure skating world in
their hands, that seemed to have affected her psyche and drove her to
the show circuit, rather than a return for a second gold medal.
"I love the tour," Lipinski said by phone from Anaheim before a recent show. "It's a lot different from competition and it means a lot more. You're performing for the people, not just 12 judges. When you turn pro, you get to connect with the audience on a calmer level. It's hard to enjoy going on the ice when it's all up to the judges."
Now, those who judge pay good money to watch these Golden Girls
skate to music by Janet Jackson and Ute Lemper and Beth Nielsen
Chapman and Linda Eder, among others. Now, all that judges Lipinski,
Witt and Yamaguchi is the marketplace -- and figure skating history.
"We don't sit there and talk about it," Yamaguchi said of the four
gold medals they share. "Olympians just don't talk about it as much as
people might think we do. That's because when you win a gold medal,
it's just the beginning."