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Yamaguchi inspired to skating glory

When she was a child, Kristi Yamaguchi had a toy model of skater Dorothy Hamill. It was her most treasured possession, and it inspired an early fascination with figure skating. She soon discovered that she also had a natural talent for the sport, one that she honed assiduously to good effect.

She was also versatile. For many years she competed in both pairs and singles events. In 1986, she won the US junior pairs title with Rudy Galindo, and then, two years later, the duo won the junior world title. Yamaguchi also won the world junior singles title in 1988.

After two more years competing on both fronts, in 1990, she made the tough decision to concentrate exclusively on the singles. The following year came her first world championship title and, despite coming second to Tonya Harding at the US championships, she arrived in Albertville as many people's favourite for gold.

She lived up to those expectations in the short programme, topping the leaderboard ahead of her room-mate Nancy Kerrigan. But Yamaguchi had an unfortunate habit of letting her form dip in the free skate, meaning that overall victory was far from assured.

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As she waited to skate again, though, she received an unexpected and inspirational visit backstage. For the first time in her life, she met her childhood idol Dorothy Hamill, who greeted her warmly and told her to relish the atmosphere and the occasion. “Go and have some fun,” Hamill said. Heeding those words, Yamaguchi produced one of the skates of her life and duly clinched the gold medal.

That was not the only prize she took away from Albertville, as she also met her future husband, US ice hockey player Bret Hedican at the Games. It was to be her last appearance on the Olympic stage, as she decided to turn professional shortly afterwards.

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