Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi is a conflicted fan of the pig.
She’s written children’s books about a determined little pig but she still … I’ll let you read that for yourself.
The gold medalist, World Figure Skating and “Dancing With The Stars” champ was recently here promoting the January 2016 U.S. championships.
“I’m planning to be here. I’m excited Xcel Energy Center will be hosting this really premiere event for U.S. figure skating. I think traditionally it’s been a wonderful event that the Twin Cities has hosted in the past. There’s a great fan base here. Skating has produced some great skaters from this area.”
We met at the St. Paul Hotel, although Yamaguchi could probably show me a few new spots around town, as she is married to Bret Hedican, an Olympian and Stanley Cup champ, who is from St. Paul.
Yamaguchi confessed a career-long shyness around the media, which may continue to this day, but I was able to make her comfortable as we shared our beefs about discourteous motorists. My video includes some file footage from when Olympians Meryl Davis and Charlie White were at the X; they are obviously not young skaters whose star potential needs to be evaluated. (The limitations of iMovie are again exposed.)
Q: From where did the idea for your book “Dream Big, Little Pig” come? (Her other book is “It’s a Big World, Little Pig.”)
A: The concept had been in me for a long time. I knew the theme and the lesson, you might say, that I wanted to bring to the kids. It was kind of a matter of honing a character, scenarios, and it kind of grew from there.
Q: Have you ever had a pet pig?
A: Never had a pet pig but I’ve always wanted one. I think I’ve sparked that interest in my 9-year-old as well. She keeps asking for a pet pig. I’m like, “Well, I don’t think we’ll be getting one. Maybe you can have one later when you’re living on your own. [Laughter]
Q: Do you eat ribs?
A: I do. [A little abashed] I do have a love of pigs. I say I’m a pig person. I’m born the Year of the Pig. They’ve always been my kind of lucky animal and all of that. Yeah, I have friends who are pig people, too, and they won’t eat pork but I do. [Laughter]
Q: How long do you have to study a skater to conclude, Ohhhh, that’s a star, a really good figure skater?
A: Usually it doesn’t take a lot of time. A couple of performances and you can kind of see what the skater has, that certain intangible thing that sets them apart. A lot of time it develops over time, so there are surprise skaters. You’re like Wow! Where’d you come from? That’s the unique thing about figure skating. Personalities. Each skater brings something different to the ice. It’s interesting.
Q: Are your daughters going to be figure skaters like you or hockey players like their dad?
A: At the moment the older one wants nothing to do with either and the younger one figure skates. He’s still holding out hope. He’s like, Well, at least she’s learning to skate. She’s got the basics. But yeah, the door is still open for her to make the switch at some time. I think, right now she is happy being a figure skater.
Q: And the other one is being an individual?
A: The other one lives to the beat of her own drum, which is fine.
Q: Two skaters, one a figure skater, one a hockey player go for their first date and they go out for ice cream?
A: [Sustained laughter] That is a correct fact, believe it or not. Yeah, I guess we were just comfortable about frozen things.
Q: So you guys went for ice cream, not slushies?
A: No, ice cream.
Q: Do you make ice cream at home?
A: I’ve done it maybe once.
Q: What did your husband think of Bruno Tonioli telling you on “Dancing With the Stars” that he wanted you to dance like a dirty girl?
A: He was probably like, YEAH! Bruno. Alright! Spice it up a little bit there. [She makes a thumbs-up gesture.] Bruno is hilarious on “Dancing With the Stars.” He has great comments and feedback. I think it’s OK to come out of your shell a little. When I performed as a skater. I was comfortable portraying different characters, whether it was more classical or more contemporary or more spicy. So I think it was good he kind of opened that door for me to quit being a mom and perform and be a little bit more edgy.
Q: Where do you keep your Mirror Ball trophy?
A: In a room upstairs in our house, kind of our media/movie room. There’s a replica of the Stanley Cup. Of course, Bret always has to say, The Mirror Ball trophy is beneath it. [Laughs]
Q: And I’m guessing the ugliest trophy in the room?
A: Yes, it is, for sure. Ugliest trophy but you get good bragging rights.
Q: Do you still have a place in northern Minnesota?
A: In Brainerd.
Q: How much time do you guys spend there?
A: We probably don’t spend as much time as we’d like to. Before kids we would spend a month or six weeks up there, which was really nice, especially during the summer time. Now with all the kids’ activities we are lucky if we get a couple weeks a summer. We always come back to try to see family around the holidays, as well. He has family still in the St. Paul area.
Q: Are you a Tiger Mom? And I don’t view that as a pejorative. There’s nothing wrong with being on top of your kids and making them do stuff and being really insistent about it.
A: [Laugh] I think there’s a fine line. Sometimes I wish I was more of a Tiger Mom. I tend to sit back and [say], “I’m not pushing you. If you want to do this it’s got to come from you.” My parents were like that. Skating was completely mine. I pushed myself. I know if they find an activity they have to have a passion for it; to be successful or to accomplish their goals or they’ll just be miserable and my husband and I will be miserable if we’re trying to force them to do it. I think kids need boundaries and structure and we’ll provide that. We can only point them in the right direction and give them the tools.
Q: I’ve always thought of you as one of those skaters who really didn’t like the media, or did you just not like doing media, or were you shy?
A: [Laughs] I was shy. Very shy. A publicist who worked with me early on looks back and [says], I remember your first press conference and all you did was giggle and say Yes or No, and I knew I had a lot of work on my hands. I was mortified by the media and very shy. I think I still am sometimes uncomfortable in certain situations. Through the years you just evolve.
Q: Is one of your daughters more like you personality-wise, more reserved or shy?
A: Probably the younger one, the 9-year-old.
Q: The skater?
A: The skater. She is different in a way, a little more free spirited, but at the core she is very shy in new situations and quiet. Yeah. Uncomfortable with new people. I see that in her a lot. The older one is just Miss Social Butterfly [Laughter, as she waved her hand].
Q: In my research I read that you are as passionate as I am about bad drivers. You have a pet peeve about people who turn without signaling?
A: [Extended laughter] That is one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s like, “How do you pass your driving test, you know, without that being a habit?” I just feel it’s lazy and disrespectful to other drivers. That aside, my husband, we joke to each other, that I’m an Asian woman from California, so I have three strikes against me as far as being a good driver. I admit it.
Q: So are you a good driver or not?
A: Don’t ask him!
Q: I’m asking you?
A: I’mmmmmm — knock on wood — I think I’m OK. You know. I’m usually a fairly courteous driver. I lived in San Francisco for several years so I’ve developed that, aggressive, you know. If you turn your signal on, you’ve gotta just find your way in to that spot you want.
Q: So would Kristi Yamaguchi ever flip off anyone?
A: [Extended laughter] Rarely! Rarely! You would have to be really bad for me to do that. I’m not a confrontational person; I’d probably avoid it if I could.
Q: I wonder, did you find Tonya Harding’s vibe threatening before the kneecapping episode?
A: Ahem … [Laugh.] Does that answer your question? You know Tonya had a tough road. She was always ahead of me a level and step up into the senior level and I had advice from other skaters to watch my step around her and avoid her if possible [laughter]. So before I really had a chance to get to know her there was that feeling, not that she was a bad person.
Interviews are edited. To e-mail C.J. try email@example.com and to see her watch Fox 9’s “Jason Show.”