Yamaguchi Good As Gold

February 22, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

ALBERTVILLE, France -- After midnight, she could tell you about the pressure. She had the gold medal around her neck then. Her tiny hands were filled with a dozen red and pink roses. She was sitting in a chair and her feet didn't even touch the ground.

"I was nervous," she said, her voice soaring in the night. "But then, when I was on the ice, I wasn't nervous anymore."

Kristi Yamaguchi of the United States refused to fall last night. She won the gold medal in the ladies' singles final at the Winter Olympics the only way possible: She stared down pressure and stayed on her feet.

Midori Ito of Japan finished second, and Nancy Kerrigan of the United States was third. The gold and bronze raised the U.S. medal count at these Games to 10, with two days to go.

But this was more than a performance for medals. This was the main event of the Olympics, the pre-eminent prize in women's winter sports.

The stands of the temporary arena were so clogged that women in fur coats sat in the aisles. The ice was ringed by 11 television cameras that beamed every performing bobble around the world. And a sequined array of ice princesses were covered by a blanket of pressure and fear.

But only Yamaguchi, the 20-year-old from Fremont, Calif., could withstand it all.

"Of course, I dreamed of this when I was a little girl," Yamaguchi said. "To think now that it has actually happened hasn't sunk in."

For Yamaguchi, the day and the night became a blur of emotions leading to a triumph, leading to the roses and the gold.

She stayed in an apartment four blocks from the arena with her parents, watching on television as the United States hockey team lost to the Unified Team of the former Soviet Union, 5-2. She dressed in sweats at 8 p.m., arrived for the show at a quarter of nine, and met the skater who was once her idol, the last American woman to win the Olympic crown, 1976 champion Dorothy Hamill.

"She wanted to wish me all the best," Yamaguchi said. "She reminded me of how hard I worked for this. She reminded me to have fun."

But this night wasn't about fun. It was about pressure.

The skaters in the final group of six were introduced as if they were fighting for a heavyweight boxing championship. They popped on the ice, all nerves and sequins.

Yamaguchi led off. She wasn't perfect, but it didn't matter.

Skating to Malaguena, she was lovely enough, dressed in black and gold brocade. She landed five of her triple jumps, and missed two. She nearly went tumbling on a toe loop, but reached out at the last possible moment with her right hand, and held herself upright. She turned the next triple into a double, and then closed the show, smiling and leaping.

"With everything going on during this week, I was very pleased with the performance," she said. "I had one major mistake. But I finished the program strongly."

And then, she waited for the others to come out and tumble. Kerrigan, her roommate in the athletes' village, fell. And so did Ms. Ito, the 1989 World Champion. And so did Tonya Harding, the 1991 U.S. champion who would wind up fourth. And so would Surya Bonaly, the French favorite who would finish fifth.

When it ended, there was Yamaguchi on the top of the victory platform. The crowd was roaring. The photographers were calling for her to pose with Kerrigan and Ito. It was some picture.

Up in the stands, Carole and Jim Yamaguchi were waving to their daughter. And she was waving back.

"I knew she could get through this," Carole Yamaguchi said. "I knew she had the guts."

Afterward, standing alone in a corner was Yamaguchi's coach, Christy Kjarsgaard Ness. For 11 years they have stuck together.

"I remember the first time I saw her, when she was just this tiny little girl with a big smile," Ness said. "She weighed 48 pounds, but she just nodded and went out and did these jumps."

And last night, Yamaguchi smiled and nodded, did most of the jumps, and won.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.