Kristi Yamaguchi Predicts "Really Great" Winter Olympics for U.S.
It's been 18 years since she won the figure skating singles title in Albertville, but Kristi Yamaguchi says it still feels like yesterday — for the most part. "There are definitely snapshots that are still vivid, but it's slowly starting to seem a little more distant now," she tells TVGuide.com. "I remember skating off the ice, being backstage with my coach, Christy Ness, and the anticipation of waiting for the scores, and then the proud moment of being announced Olympic champion and stepping on the podium." The 38-year-old Dancing with the Stars champion will watch someone else be crowned Olympic champion from the NBC booth in Vancouver, where she is working as a special correspondent for the Today show. Get her take on the U.S. figure skating team's chances of taking home gold, what sport she's most excited to see and which Olympian should go Dancing next.
TVGuide.com: The U.S. is heading to Vancouver with no woman favored for the gold this time. What do you think of Rachael Flatt's and Mirai Nagasu's chances?
Kristi Yamaguchi: I think they're ready. I don't think you can just pass them off and say "They don't have a chance at the podium." Obviously Kim Yu-Na is a great skater, but their performances at nationals proved that, hey, these girls have served notice. And if other girls make mistakes — as you know anything can happen at the Olympic Games — they certainly have a chance. I think in the next four years, you'll really see Mirai, Rachael, Ashley [Wagner] and a couple more that are just going to get better.
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TVGuide.com: Do you think it works in their favor that they're the underdogs?
Yamaguchi: In some way. Being 16 and 17 — what an amazing experience, to be able to go and enjoy every aspect of the games. I really hope they go to the opening ceremony and stay in the village. All of that is so special. It's nice not having that pressure. They can go in and relax, put up a fight and do what they can, and hopefully have a positive experience.
TVGuide.com: On the flip side, our men's team is stronger than ever.
Yamaguchi: I know! It's so exciting to have such a strong men's team. It's been a long time since we've had that. Evan Lysacek has what it takes it to win. He needs to be aggressive and fight. With [defending champion Evgeni] Plushenko coming back, everyone needs to step it up a notch. I think it's going to come down to what the competition's doing. With Plushenko being able to do two quads, I think they'll get there and survey the land. I know Evan's been landing his quad beautifully in practice. And we have Johnny Weir and Jeremy Abbott — wow! Men's skating is in good hands.
TVGuide.com: How do you think you would've done under the new scoring system?
Yamaguchi: It's hard to say. Of course, I would've done whatever I could, whatever was in my power to be competitive. ... I prefer the old system only because I feel it lent a lot more creativity and artistry and ambition. You weren't penalized so much for trying something different, new and difficult. You can't put a number on emotion, exhilaration and tears at the end of a performance. It's about points, strategy and planning now. It was created to try to do the right thing, but I think we will still be searching for the right one. It's also not fan-friendly either. Figure skating's a performance sport that if the fans aren't into it, then it's a lose-lose for everyone.
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TVGuide.com: What's the biggest misconception about figure skating?
Yamaguchi: I think sometimes people are surprised at how hard skaters train. When you watch it, they look effortless and beautiful because of the training that has gone into it. It's just as hard and intense as any other athlete's in the Olympics.
TVGuide.com: Aside from figure skating, what are the must-watch events?
Yamaguchi: I think Apolo Anton Ohno in short track. I have a good feeling he'll make history [as the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian]. What an incredible athlete and ambassador. Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn on the snow, of course. The U.S. team is very strong. I think it's going to be a really great games for us.
TVGuide.com: Which sport are you looking forward to seeing live?
Yamaguchi: I am hoping to see some of the snowboarding. I've never seen that live before. I think it'll be fun to see in person and it's becoming such an Olympic favorite. You lose perspective on TV, and everyone makes it look so easy, but I think to see how fast they're going, how high they're going and how steep everything is would be incredible.
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TVGuide.com: Which sport do you think people don't watch, but they should?
Yamaguchi: I already dissed curling [in another interview], so I feel bad! [Laughs] I'm not totally schooled on some of the other sports. I think Americans like to see Americans in the sports they do well in.
TVGuide.com: Since Apolo won three years ago, there has been at least one Olympian on Dancing with the Stars each season except for one. Which Olympian should go on next?
Yamaguchi: Hmm, I don't know. They had Natalie Coughlin last season, and I was so sad when she left. She had an earlier exit than I think we all anticipated. Louie Vito left early too. It was insane that season — so many people! Who knows? Obviously I want a figure skater. Michelle Kwan should do it!