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Kristi Yamaguchi - Breaking Through Barriers

Kristi Yamaguchi - Breaking Through Barriers

If ever there were a true feel-good story in the Olympics, Kristi Yamaguchi's 1992 Olympic win would be it. There have been countless stories in the Olympic canon which send chills up the spine.

However, few athletes in history have been able to win a medal in the strange, seemingly mystical fashion that Yamaguchi did in 1992. A chance meeting with her hero, simple words of encouragement, and unprecedented events on the world's biggest stage – Yamaguchi's tale is the stuff of legends.

Kristi Yamaguchi

Born July 12, 1971 in Hayward, California, Kristine Tsuya Yamaguchi is a former American figure skater who won multiple championships in singles and pairs over the course of her career. She was inducted in the skating Hall of Fame in the US in 2005, and she has worked in sport in some capacity for most of her adult life.

Yamaguchi became a figure skating fan while just a young girl, falling in love with Dorothy Hamill, and ultimately pushed for a career in the sport. She was a fantastic juniors athlete, winning multiple national titles, and her career on the World Championship circuit was also fruitful. But Kristi had developed a reputation of performing very well in earlier rounds while faltering in the last round.
 
Yamaguchi's Improbably Olympic Win

The 1992 Games in Albertville were packed with a lot of figure skating talent. Apart from Yamaguchi, another skilled American figure skater was also competing that year – Nancy Kerrigan, who was Kristi's roommate. For the past few years, Yamaguchi had always managed to skate very well after the first program of the competition. Even in qualifying for the Games she was plagued by this. Skating incredibly well initially, and becoming the leader, Yamaguchi would falter in the long program. After the first program at the 1992 Olympics, Kristi was ahead on the leader board, with Kerrigan in second place, but most feared that the inevitable would happen and Yamaguchi would fall in some fashion during the long program.

To this point, Kristi had bested a lot of great competition. Not only were other American skaters in the field considered very good, such as Nancy Kerrigan and a pre-infamy Tonya Harding, but there were other fantastic figure skaters on the international level as well. Midori Ito and Yuka Sato of Japan, Chen Lu of China, and Surya Bonaly of France were considered amongst the best in the world, and together they were putting on a great show in the rounds leading up to the final.

Backstage after taking the lead, Yamaguchi sat nervously awaiting her opportunity to compete in the long program. When, out of nowhere, she was approached on a whim by none other than her childhood idol, Dorothy Hamill. To date, Kristi and Dorothy had never met before, but Yamaguchi openly admired Hamill and wasn't shy about telling everyone how influential Dorothy was to her career. Hamill, when speaking to Yamaguchi, wished her luck and simply told her to go out there and “have fun.” Thrilled about the meeting, Kristi went into the long program with a huge smile and a renewed sense of confidence.

In her typically conservative program, Yamaguchi skated well but still managed to suffer from a touchdown after performing a triple loop at the end of the program. What most feared had become a reality. Yamaguchi, once again, skated incredibly well in the earlier rounds only to falter. And even though it wasn't a large deduction, it was still going to be detrimental against this field.

But like something you might expect to see in a movie, every skater in the final round would suffer a bigger fault or fall. Kerrigan, Harding, Ito, Lu, Sato, the entire field – they all faltered in what was a confusing 180 from the way they were skating before.

In comparison, Yamaguchi's program was stellar. She didn't win by default; Kristi won because she had the best programs of the night. Even still, it was perhaps the strangest set of events in Olympic figure skating history to that point. Kristi took the gold medal easily, and despite the fashion in which it happened, she managed to break her curse.

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