An Interview With Gold Medalist Kristi Yamaguchi

Through Procter & Gamble and Walmart, about a month ago, I got to meet Kristi Yamaguchi. We were out at the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club, where P&G and Walmart had donated hundreds of pairs of skates to the club. Kristi had been showing the kids some of her moves on ice, which unfortunately I missed, but she graciously answered some questions (with a lot of humor) that might help you peer into the mind of a gold medal-winning Olympic skater.

My skater question for you is, what did you do to concentrate? Because it's really intense concentration in short bursts.

You just really have to find a way to focus your energy. I don't know how I did it. I just knew I had to see myself, envision what I wanted to do out there. I did a lot of visualization, even the night before I competed, as well as the day of, and that helped me focus on the positive things I wanted to do.

Right before I competed, there was just a lot of positive reinforcement, listening to my coach, and hearing the words she said to me, like "bend your knees, take one thing at a time, and skate fast." You know everything, they're simple short things -- like breathe, and take your time -- that would help slow things down and make sure a performance doesn't get away from you.

A lot of times it was also the music. My skating was dictated by the music. I probably couldn't compete without it. I think a lot of times you almost go on automatic pilot once you hear that first note... your body just knows what it's supposed to do to each note.

Who picked the music? Did you pick the music?

I always picked the music, as long as I can remember. I took a lot of suggestions from the coaches and once in a while "I really think you should do this..." "Okay, okay..." But Olympic year for sure.

Is there a strategy for picking the music? For an Olympic year?

Yes, there is. You want something strong, something that will showcase your strengths.Malagueña, which was my long program, I had actually skated to. That was my third or fourth time actually skating to that piece of music, but I skated well to it. It suited me and we decided to use it again. I think having a strong piece of music that was expressive helped me look stronger and more expressive. If that makes sense. And the Blue Danube, we wanted something classic and something that was very skaterly.

Did you ever get to the point with any music where you never wanted to hear it again?

There were certain programs I hope I never hear again. You see and hear skaters skate to a certain something and you can end up with vivid images of those other skaters, or even of yourself.

I'm working with a coach now who thinks the move to bring back school figures is a really good one. What do you think of that? You didn't have to do school figures, did you?

I did, I did up until '91 or '90, so two years at the senior level I did figures. I appreciate them and I miss them, actually. I miss training with them because there was never perfection. There was always something to work on. Oddly enough, I hated them in competition! I was horrible in front of judges, because I would just get so nervous, but I loved training with them; it was tedious but there was always something to get better, they were so exacting. I do believe that the quality of the skating, the edge control, just the fundamentals of it all is missed.

What do you think of the new scoring system versus when you were competing?

I don't know if we have time for an answer to that!

Skate by numbers?

How much time do we have? It has its merits for sure. I think the idea of it was probably good, to try to take the subjectivity out. I think it's a work in progress still.

But I don't think you can ever take the subjectivity out.

You can't. They're just hidden now. I think that in some ways it's helped improve some quality of skating in our sport but it's also taken a lot of creativity and personality out of the our sport as well. Now you just have to do a spiral, change the spiral, lift the leg, grab the skate...

The younger skaters, they don't stop moving; it literally doesn't matter if the music is slow and beautiful or fast, they're moving at the same clip. They just don't stop moving!