Olympic champion figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi spoke to EW before heading to Vancouver to serve as special correspondent for NBC’s Today show. Take some time during tonight’s intermittent coverage of the ladies’ short program to check out her answers to PopWatch readers’ questions. Look for another Kristi post before Thursday’s long program, and come back for our PopWatch on Ice recap tomorrow morning. In the meantime…TOE PICK!
What American female skater has the best chance at gold (or any medal)? –Tory
It’s definitely an outside chance for both of our girls, Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu. But in my opinion, both of them have that outside chance. I mean, it’s a slim chance, I wouldn’t say it’s huge. But if they skate their bottoms off and some of the other girls make mistakes….you know, the Olympics are such a high-pressure, intense, crazy competition and it comes down to those who can perform when it’s time. Our girls aren’t gonna have any pressure on them — they have a lot less experience than all the girls who could be expected to medal. You just never know how much politics are gonna take effect.
What’s your opinion on skaters who come back after a long period away just because there is an Olympics coming up? (Sasha Cohen, Yevgeny Plushenko) –Judy and Kim
I think Sasha truly wanted to come back and compete and maybe have another chance at an Olympic medal. I don’t believe it was a publicity stunt at all. She put the time in, the effort, and the training, and she narrowly missed. She had a really, really good chance of making the team. It’s hard — in some ways, it’s great to see great skating come back. But at the same time, you know, you see Yevgeny Plushenko come back, and it’s like, dude, you already won! Give someone else a chance! We know you’re great, but let someone else have their time! Obviously, if Yevgeny was American, we’d all feel different.
How do you think you’d compete against today’s crop of skaters? In your prime, how do you think you’d have competed against Michelle Kwan in her prime? –RTG
Oh, that’s hard — that’s like comparing me and Dorothy Hamill. I guess Michelle and I are a little closer in generation. It’s hard to say. I probably would have had to adjust a little bit and vice versa. We both had strengths in different areas.
How much does it just plain old suck that Michelle Kwan doesn’t have a gold? –seb
In terms of my career, having the gold definitely changed my life. The Olympics are different, you know? They’re every four years and it’s such a small group. So for me, having achieved the gold, there’s a certain prestige that comes along with it, and responsibilities and things like that, you know, “master to your sport.” On the other hand, Michelle is our most decorated female skater in U.S. history. When you look at her national titles and world titles, they are incredibly impressive. The Olympics don’t overshadow the accomplishments she’s done for our country. I think she’s an icon, despite never winning Olympic gold.
[EW followup:] Did it bother you a little that your own Olympic gold medal was more ‘clear’ than ‘gold’?
Well, you know it’s not really gold anyway, so it doesn’t matter! I didn’t mind it — obviously when you win, you don’t care what it looks like. The clear center of it is Lalique crystal, which I’m a big fan of anyway. I guess maybe someone like the skiers or whoever, who don’t really care about crystal, they might not have liked it. But I love it!
What do you think of the new system in judging? Is the focus in landing jumps (i.e. the technical side of the sport) taking too much from the artistic side? –Chris
It definitely is more about strategy these days, and packing your routine with points. I think there’s a fine line there and some skaters are still trying to keep the balance. It’s hard, because you have to do what you can to get the level 4s and the high points, and you won’t want to waste your energy on fluff choreography and interpretation when you’re not even getting points for it. I think it’s a difficult system to navigate and to keep the balance. But some of the top skaters are able to do that.
[EW followup:] How glad are you that the current system wasn’t in place when you were competitive?
I would not want to compete under the current system. It’s so much for the skaters to think about. In my era, we’d just go out and think of the performance as a whole, whereas now it’s like element, element, element, element, and oh no I’ve missed, I just dropped eight points there, where am I gonna pick up eight more points? There’s just so much more for them to think about, and it’s not necessarily making them better skaters.
What are the lamest required elements in a long and short program that all the skaters secretly hate but know they must perform? –Daphmax
I would say the spiral step sequence. Well, it’s probably a tie between that and the new system of footwork — the format of it is terrible. Skaters need to do the footwork to get the points, but for someone watching, you see people do certain things and you’re like...What?
What’s your favorite trick/move of all time? –Amy
I would have to say triple lutz-triple toe combination. I liked the fact that not many women had done it, and even today not many do it. It made me think, you know, I pushed the envelope. and I deserve it.
Can you describe the feeling for you of being up in the air, at the peak of a triple lutz, and knowing that it is working perfectly and you are going to land it well? What does your body feel like when you are right at the peak of the jump? –Linda Rosch
You really feel centered, and you can almost feel the height that you have. At the peak, if you have that centered feeling and you’re over your feet and you’ve got the height, you’re really just preparing to land on the way down, to exit out of the rotation and land on the ball of your foot, or whatever technique you have…hopefully the ball of your foot because that’s where you should be landing!
How hard is it to skate in those costumes? –Nerwen
I’ve always worked closely with the designers and whoever’s making the costumes. Comfort is the last thing you want on your mind when you’re competing. In an ideal situation, you’ll have something where you’ll put it on and you’re fine and you don’t have to worry about it at all.
For a time, starting with Kristi, it seemed skating costumes were moving in a more fashionable and stylish direction. Kristi even competed without wearing a skirt once or twice. I feel like we peaked with Kwan wearing dresses by Vera Wang, and now we’re back to fake-nude cut outs, sequins and puffy sleeves. Kristi, where did U.S. skating’s fashion sense go? –Q
I don’t know. In the U.S. Nationals, I thought their costumes were all very nice. Internationally, sometimes skaters have a different sense of style and taste, so they’re not as fashionable in terms of what we would think is stylish in America. I think it goes in trends. Skaters see someone with something and think oh, that looks kind of cool, and try to emulate it. It can be hard. There aren’t a whole lot of choices in costume designers out there.
[EW followup:] You usually seemed comfortable with a lot of sparkle. How much do the judges care what the costume looks like?
If it’s a strap thing, it’s not good. There have been costuming deductions if it’s been too distracting, over-the-top, or theatrical. I don’t mind the sparkle — I think it’s kind of a tradition in skating. I don’t think the men really need sparkles, but for the women it’s part of the glamour of our sport. And the design has to go with the music. I think the music dictates the style, the color, the look. Some of the more somber pieces, yeah, I don’t think they need sparkle at all. If the routine is more serious, reflect that in your costumes.
Do you still have the costume you wore when you won the gold medal? –Nancy
It’s actually on display at the World Figure Skating Museum in Colorado Springs. A lot of other skaters have costumes there — Tara Lipinski, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton. They’ve put up some really, really nice displays there. My medal is there, too.
Do you prefer skating to classical pieces or music with words, like in exhibition pieces? Does it change how you skate? And do you wish you could compete with lyrical music? –Kel
I like upbeat for sure, but I think lyrics would be a distraction. It’s still a sport — you want to show the athletic side. The music should complement the routine and not overpower the skating. You want something pure that’s relatable and, obviously, pleasing to the audience, because it’s a performance work. Lyrics tend to be too theatrical for a competition like the Olympics.
You seem to be the inspiration for the crop of dominant Japanese-American female figure skaters we have today (as well as many non-J-A skaters). Did you have an athletic role model who reflected your same heritage? –Laurie
She was Chinese, but Tiffany Chin was a big role model of mine. She was the first Asian-American skater to go to the Olympics. She was definitely an inspiration.
You and Rudy Galindo were a great pairs team. Do you ever regret giving up pairs? –Tex
I definitely miss skating and competing in pairs. It was something that was a great challenge and we had a lot of fun doing it, but at the time, I just couldn’t do both anymore. Mentally, physically, it was getting to be too much. I couldn’t imagine giving up singles. At the time, Rudy and I were not going to break into the top 3 anyway.
Who is your favorite male and female figure skater? –Jen
Currently, I would say Yu-Na Kim, the South Korean favorite, for female. For male, Evan Lysacek. As for my favorite of all time….wow. Dorothy Hamill was the reason I got into skating. For the men…aggghh! It’s so hard! Between Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano and Kurt Browning.
Is your nickname “The Gooch”? –jb
People who know me well can call me that. It’s not official!