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Yamaguchi says she didn't realize her historic Olympic win was "a big deal" until after the fact.TODAY Illustration / Courtesy Mattel, Inc. / Getty Images

Kristi Yamaguchi won Olympic gold 32 years ago. Her latest prize: Becoming a Barbie doll

From Olympic gold to ‘skating mom’ to Barbie fame, Kristi Yamaguchi is gliding through life.

When Kristi Yamaguchi won an Olympic gold medal for ice skating in 1992, she was the first Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI)?competitor to earn a gold in any sport in the Winter Games.

“At the time, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just trying to skate, a California girl going after her dream,” Yamaguchi tells TODAY.com modestly. “After the Olympics and feeling the outpouring of pride and support from the Asian American community, I think that’s when I realized this is a big deal.”?

Figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi from the United Sta
This Olympic skating costume inspired the look of Yamaguchi's Barbie, big '90s bangs included.Eric Feferberg / AFP via Getty Images

Though winning was thrilling, Yamaguchi also found it slightly “intimidating” to be the face of the AAPI community. It also gave her a “greater appreciation for the generations before me who definitely paved the way,” she says.

Passing the torch

Since the 1950s, AAPI ice skaters began to step into the spotlight, winning championships and entertaining audiences. Finally, in 1983, Tiffany Chin became the first Asian American skater to represent the U.S. at the Winter Olympics, but she didn’t end up winning a medal.

American skaters were mostly white in 1992, but due in part to Yamaguchi's historic win, things began to change. In 2022, the nine-member gold medal winning U.S. figure stating team had four members of Asian heritage. Skaters like Nathan Chen, Michelle Kwan, Maia and Alex Shibutani and Mirai Nagasu continued to win big on the ice.

Did Yamaguchi directly influence these skaters? It’s hard to say, but representation does matter.

“I’m fourth generation Japanese American and my family definitely went through a lot to create a life here,” says Yamaguchi, noting that being the first generation to find athletic success “is a symbol of the progress for sure.”

Conscious of her role as a mentor, Yamaguchi herself reached out to a skater named Karen Chen, who was part of the U.S. gold medal team in the 2022 Olympics.

“I kept hearing things because we’re from the same hometown,” Yamaguchi says, mentioning that she asked Chen’s coaches if she could meet her. “I mentored her since she was 12. I saw a lot of myself in her, and it was really fun to see her progress and turn into the amazing skater that she is.”

Barbie on ice

It has been 32 years since Yamaguchi's gold medal, but this year, she is getting an honor that she would have never believed as a child. As part of its Inspiring Women collection, Mattel made a Barbie in Yamaguchi's likeness. She calls it “a highlight for sure.”

“I spent many hours, many hours, with my Barbies. I had the Dream House and the Corvette and everything,” Yamaguchi laughs. Her daughters, however, were “much more creative than I was,” especially when creating their own fashions for the dolls.

Her daughters — Keara, 20, and Emma, 18 — think it’s “very cool” that Mattel created a Barbie doll in their mom’s image, but at the same time, Yamaguchi says they’re thinking, “‘What? Like, why you, Mom?’”

Emma skated competitively for several years, but Yamaguchi had mixed feelings about her daughter following in her footsteps

"It wasn't so fun being a skating mom. It was difficult, actually," laughs Yamaguchi in conversation with TODAY.com. "I was nervous watching anytime she competed because I know what she's going through and just wanted her to do well."

Emma's coach just so happened to be Yamaguchi's former pairs partner, Rudy Galindo. "I had to really put her in his hands and try to be hands off as much as I as much as I could," Yamaguchi says.


Kristi Yamaguchi Visits PANDORA Jewelry Store In San Francisco
Kristi's daughters Keara and Emma in 2010.Steve Jennings / WireImage

Gliding through life

Though Yamaguchi's daughters may not fully understand why their mom merits Barbie doll status, Mattel certainly does.

At the TIME100 gala last week, Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz told TODAY.com that the Inspiring Women series is about all the ways in which "iconic humans" are able to truly "touch culture."

And Yamaguchi did that.

Kristi Yamaguchi and her professional partner Mark Ballas
Kristi Yamaguchi and her professional partner Mark Ballas were crowned champions of "Dancing with the Stars." Michael Desmond / Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Off the ice, Yamaguchi created the?Always Dream Foundation over two decades ago to promote children’s literacy, and she gained new legions of fans when she won the sixth season of “Dancing With the Stars.”

Yamaguchi says that it's "hard" to see herself in the Inspiring Women collection along with "heroes" like Maya Angelou and Anna May Wong. "But at the same time," she says she's hopeful "that it will inspire another generation or two of young people to go after their dreams."

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