Kristi Tsuya Yamaguchi was born July 12, 1971 in Hayward, California to a dentist and a medical secretary. She started taking ballet lessons at the age of four. When she was six, she strapped on her first pair of ice skates, mostly to strengthen her legs. Kristi has a "turned-in-foot" condition and had to wear special shoes and skates. This would not slow her up at all. At eight years old she was already involved in a strict training regiment. When I was playing with Transformers, Kristi was waking up at 4 in the morning to skate before school started. She was also attending a dance class every week to work on her grace and body control.
In 1983, she teamed up with Rudy Galindo. The two would be longtime pairs skating partners. Two years later, the duo finished in 5th place at the U.S. Junior championship. The pair was being coached by Jim Hulick. Even though Kristi worked wonderfully with Rudy, she still performed in various singles competitions. In 1986 she was the Central Pacific Junior champion, earning her a spot at the Junior Nationals. At the 1988 World Junior Championships she finished first in the singles competition as well as first in pairs with Rudy Galindo. The Womens' Sports Foundation called her the "Up and coming artistic athlete of the year."
At the 1989 Nationals in Baltimore, Maryland, Kristi almost repeated the feat she accomplished at the World Juniors. She and Rudy won the gold medal in the pairs competition, but she finished behind Jill Trenary for the silver medal in singles competition. Kristi was the first woman to win two medals at the nationals in 35 years of competition. They performed well enough to take on the world at the 1989 World Championships in Paris, France. The pair finished fifth while Kristi finished sixth in singles competition.
Just when things looked to be very bright for this up and coming skating superstar, things started to go wrong. Her singles coach got married to physician Andrew Ness and moved to Edmonton, Alberta. While this is not a bad thing, Kristi followed her singles coach to Edmonton, but Rudy stayed with Hulick down in California. They made trips to Canada as frequently as they could, but it was still very hard for the pair to train in different countries. The worse blow came in December of 1989. Within five days of each other, both Tom Hulick and Kristi's grandfather, George Doi, passed away.
Kristi and Rudy kept their resolve. They started working with John Nicks, but the disjointed training continued until Galindo relocated to Canada so the two could practice better. Amazingly, the duo won the 1990 Nationals while Kristi finished behind Trenary, again, in singles competition. In the Worlds Championships, Kristi managed to finish just shy of the podium, in 4th place. Kristi and Rudy finished in fifth place again.
After being fifth both years, we knew it would be very tough to break into the top three, ... I figured we accomplished as much as we could together. To improve in one or the other, I had to choose. It was a difficult decision, but I knew something would have to change.1
Kristi's newfound focus on singles competition was enhanced with a new ruling in 1990. No longer was it necessary to do compulsory figures, where a figure skater traces patterns on the ice with one foot and then the other. The form is then rated by judges who came out onto the ice to look at the pattern. At the 1990 Goodwill Games, Kristi defeated longtime rival Jill Trenary as well as Surya Bonaly. She then topped Evelyn Grossman and Marina Keilmann at the Nations Cup. At Skate America, she beat Japanese skating sensation, Midori Ito.
On a roll, Yamaguchi was a force to be reckoned with at the 1991 Nationals. While many thought she could win it all this year, she was beat by Tonya Harding, who became the second woman to hit a triple axel in competition. The World Championships would turn out different. Yamaguchi nailed a near-perfect performance in the free-skate, earning her seven 5.9 marks in technical merit with six 5.9 marks and a perfect 6.0 in artistic impression. Yamaguchi took the gold, Harding the silver, and Nancy Kerrigan the bronze, marking the first time in 73 years that one country swept all the medals in the Worlds.
By the 1992 Olympic Games, the world was bonkers for figure skating. America had three strong skaters, Japan had Midori Ito, not to mention the rest of the world's greatest. The media was abuzz, and everyone was wondering if Kristi could win it all without doing the difficult triple axel. To counter, Kristi had seven different triple rotation jumps in her program, which did not sit well with her coach, who said "All this indiscriminate jumping kind of puts me off ... I see a lot of misses on jumps in competition and a clean program will beat that nearly every time."2
While Kristi did not attempt a triple axel, it did not hurt her performance. Kristi was the only skater who did not fall during her short program. In the long program she fell only on a triple toe loop, causing her to change her mind and only do a double salchow (pronounced sow cow) so she could get back into the flow of her program. Even though she slipped up, she still erred less than her opponents, and in the graceful art of figure skating, that matters more than rotations. Kristi won the gold medal for her performances. Later that year, Kristi Yamaguchi became the first woman since Peggy Fleming in 1968 to repeat in the World's Championship.
After doing all there is to do as an amateur, Kristi moved on and went pro. She joined Stars on Ice and skated alongside greats like Scott Hamilton, Katerina Witt, Paul Wylie, Kurt Browning, Rosalynn Summers and Sergei Grinkov. This decision was complicated by a change in eligibility rules in which one could not return to their amateur status to compete in the Olympics.
Ever since her win in Albertville, Kristi has become one of the most recognizable female athletes in America. On July 8, 2000, she wed Bret Hedican, a defenseman for the Florida Panthers. In 2002, she was a goodwill ambassador to the Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1996, Kristi established the Always Dream Foundation, which focuses in encouraging and supporting children and their dreams.