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Kristi Yamaguchi looks back at her skating career and forward at her life

Source: Kansas City Star
Date: February 6, 2002
Author: Brian McTavish

Talk about good timing: The Winter Olympics start this week, and "Target Stars on Ice" is at Kemper Arena. Q: You're coming up on your 10th anniversary of winning the gold in France. Miss the competition?

A: In some ways, you miss being in that kind of shape and having that intense, competitive, I don't know, spirit, I guess. But a lot's happened in 10 years, and the focus of my life has changed. It's just fun to look back on it.

You still look pretty darn fit on the "Stars on Ice" poster.

(Laughs) Yeah, hopefully, I'm still in shape. Basically, the training's similar. We're still on the ice a couple hours a day. But it's a different kind of pressure. We're not fighting to gain a title; we're trying to live up to our titles now. People expect to see that gold medalist. So you try to give that to them every performance.

Have you become more of an entertainer?

Definitely. I mean, I was quite the technician when I competed and really, I think, kind of scared to break out and show too much emotion on the ice. When I turned pro, I was surrounded by all these great professionals. It taught me, "Hey, you can really open yourself up a lot more and share your skating with the audience."

What's fun for you in the show?

The second number that I do is kind of a departure. It's a Janet Jackson song ("Trust a Try") and a lot more kind of hard-edged and rockish. It's maybe a little different light than people are used to seeing me in.

A sexier light?

Yeah, it's kind of a little sexier, a little more bold. You know, I worked with, actually, a dance choreographer who worked with Janet quite a bit. She's Gina Landon. I think she did the "Rhythm Nation" tour.

Another thing is I get to skate pairs again. I competed in pairs for seven years, and it's been about 12 years since I've done it. So this year I'm doing a pair number with Denis Petrov, who's an Olympic silver medalist. For me, it's the highlight for my show, because I love it so much.

Which is tougher -- solo or pairs skating?

In pairs, if you don't get along with your partner then it's certainly going to be very difficult. It gets hard. It's like a marriage almost. I mean, yeah, you're going to argue. You try not to blame, but sometimes you don't see eye to eye. You definitely need to respect and trust each other, otherwise forget it.

In or out of the sport, what's the best piece of advice you ever got?

(Pause) That this is a temporary thing. Enjoy every minute of it that you can.

You're a popular spokesperson, including for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Your role?

I'll be doing a lot of appearances, maybe attending some of the skating events with organizations or dignitaries. I've been working with them since '97. Now it's pretty much let the Games begin.

Your "Stars on Ice" co-stars and fellow Olympic champs Katarina Witt ("Ronin," "Jerry Maguire") and Tara Lipinski ("Touched by an Angel," "The Young and the Restless") have developed acting careers. Any similar plans?

Right now I'm just so busy with the skating and being sort of an ambassador for the sport, I haven't really looked at another career yet.

Do you hang out with Katarina and Tara off the ice?

We do. Everyone kind of does their own thing, but every once in a while we'll all get together. Movies, dinner, whatever -- just relax.

What are they like?

(Laughs) It's hard to say. I mean, we just have different personalities. Everyone knows Katarina Witt as kind of the seductress, you know, a very passionate person. I think people still remember Tara as the youngest Olympic champion, and she's still a fresh face out there in figure skating.

Where do you fit in?

I don't know where I fit in. (Laughs) I think people categorize me as a skater who has kind of been pretty steady through her career. I'm still here 10 years later. I'm not as consistent as I was back then but still helping push professional skating to a different level.

The clock is ticking. Do you ever think about the day when you'll hang up your skates?

As an athlete you have a small window. Yeah, I think it's tough. It's not so much the athletic side of the sport, but being a performer and thinking, "OK, there's going to come a day I'm going to have to step out of spotlight." And when it's something you've known your whole life, yeah, sure, it's going to be a little daunting to think, "Well, what lies ahead for me? How am I going to measure my self-worth if I don't have this performing anymore?"

But I think skating's been my bit. And I really look forward to settling down a little more and having kind of a more normal life. I want to get off the road next year, the touring schedule, but still do special events.

Are you married or single?

I'm married.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Who knows? But hopefully raising a family by then.