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Catching up with Kristi Yamaguchi

Posted by Scott Thurston, Globe Staff  February 23, 2010 09:48 AM

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The custom-made costumes and the kiss-and-cry area are now just wonderful memories that fade more and more each Olympiad. It’s been 18 years since Kristi Yamaguchi twirled and jumped her way to gold in Albertville, France, and in that time she became a professional skater, a Hall of Famer, a commentator, a wife, and even a champion again.

‘‘Dancing with the Stars,’’ of course.

All that’s nice, but if you really want to see her eyes light up, ask her about something else she became: A mom.

‘‘The biggest reward and accomplishment of my life,’’ she beams, referring to daughters Keara, 6, and Emma, 4, she had with husband Bret Hedican, a former Olympian and NHL player.

And sounding just like a mother, she quickly adds, ‘‘I still can’t believe when I look at them how fast they grow.’’

Yamaguchi, now an even-harder-to-believe 38, is here with Proctor & Gamble as part of the company’s ‘Thanks, Mom’’ program which helps defray the costs of travel and accommodations for the mothers of some 200 Team USA members.

‘‘It’s really a neat program and I think invaluable to the US athletes,’’ she says, relaxing in the beauty salon and spa at the five-level P&G Family Home, which includes a spacious lounge. ‘‘I think for the athletes it’s so important to have their unconditional support system here.

‘‘My mom [Carole] is here and I’m not even competing!’’

Having that support system will be certainly be important for the two young US hopefuls in the women’s competition that begins tonight (neither of whom were born when Yamaguchi captured America’s heart in ’92), 16-year-old Mirai Nagasu and 17-year-old Rachel Flatt. Both are considered long shots.

‘‘It should be fun for them,’’ said Yamaguchi. ‘‘I think they just need to sit back and enjoy it and do what they can. I personally think they have an outside chance to make the podium. I know there aren’t any expectations, they don’t have the pressure on them to do that because they don’t have the experience.

‘‘If there are mistakes at the top, we all know Olympic competition is like no other, the pressure sometimes gets to the competitors. If there are mistakes, the door’s open. When you don’t have the expectations, you’re out there to have fun, and you have a little more fire in you.’’

Thinking back to her experience, ‘‘In some ways, I deflected a lot of pressure by giving myself the option to compete after that and continue on to ’94,’’ said Yamaguchi, who opted to pursue a pro career.

With evolution comes more revolutions for the kids today, who perform triple lutzes as a matter of routine. Still. some of the figure skating cognoscenti believe the program Yamaguchi skated in the ’92 Games would hold up well.

‘‘Wow, who are they?’’ she said with a laugh. ‘‘Well, that’s really nice. I, at the time, was hoping to be one, along with Midori Ito, who was pushing the envelope in women’s figure skating. And even though I was labeled more the artistic skater, I think I took a lot of pride in the technical side as well, doing the triple-triple at the Olympics and hoping to see women doing six, seven, triples consistently.

‘‘But it’s nice to know people feel that way.’’

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