Background image: Meribel, one of the ski resorts in the French Alps used for alpine skiing competition in the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics.
1992 Albertville Winter Olympics
There are always a few stories that you can nominate before each
Olympics that are likely to become the focus for U.S. readers and thus
shape a reporter's coverage plans. At the Winter Olympics, that most
often means women’s figure skating.
When you write for the hometown paper of the figure skater at the
center of the story the country is most interested in – Kristi Yamaguchi –
you can't get beaten by any reporter on any development. Not a sniffle,
not a sneeze can go unreported.
Leading up to the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, that meant a year
of getting to know the Yamaguchi family and her coach, Christy
Kjarsgaard-Ness (the first part of her surname is pronounced KAZ-gard),
them getting to know me and getting comfortable with me being
around. I had to accurately reflect the person in my coverage that so
many people wanted to know.
But that did not mean, in my view, that we should all be close personal
My job was to report on the athlete who likely would be – for
Americans, and certainly those in the San Francisco Bay Area – the star
of those Olympics. To have the most complete, accurate and
interesting news about her and to have it before anyone else.
Yet even though I would be around an increasing amount, it had to be
understood by everyone that writing about her was why I was around,
and that as much as I wanted our conversations to be free and open,
that what they shared with me they were potentially sharing with the
It would be one thing for Kristi or anyone in her camp to say, “I’m going
to share something with you so you can better understand something,
but I don’t want this printed.” But it would not be OK to share
something and then, upon reflection, to try to keep it out of a story. I
could not be in position where the people I was covering were also my
For me, and likely for them, this added a degree of tension in the
private times I was with the Yamaguchis – at her coach’s home in
Edmonton, Alberta, for example, where she lived during her two years
of pre-Olympic training, or at the apartment the Yamaguchis rented in
France during the Olympics.
Therefore, the stories at right that I wrote about Kristi and her family –
I didn’t include event coverage in the list – need to be understood in
this context: As open and honest as we all endeavored to be in a
relationship that lasted a couple of years, there was always self-
restraint being exercised by the Yamaguchis to ensure that what was
shared with me was something that they were comfortable sharing
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in science – the mere act of
observing something affects the something you are observing – also
applies in the confines of journalist-subject/source relationships.
Nevertheless, I believe my coverage was an accurate reflection of an
extraordinary athlete and family that I knew during a time of intense
public scrutiny. They were the incredibly generous and warm folks to
me and in the relationships I observed as I portrayed them to be
in my coverage.
The day of the women’s long program in Albertville, which would decide
the competition, I volunteered to take Kristi’s sister, Lori, skiing along
with a British figure skater who lived at the Yamaguchi home in
Fremont, California while he trained in the Bay Area. Carole Yamaguchi,
Kristi’s mother, wanted the apartment to be a quiet and peaceful place
during the hours before Kristi would leave for what would prove to be
her gold medal performance.
The three of us had a great day on sun-splashed slopes at Meribel
talking about skiing and snow and nothing about skating and ice.
The final story in the list on this page was reported and written the
following morning, after Kristi had won, and I was hanging out with the
family for the day-after story. It illustrates how our relationship evolved
under the constraints I’ve described. In it, Kristi mentions a boyfriend in
Edmonton. But I didn't know – and perhaps her family didn’t, either, at
that point – that she had met a Minnesota hockey player in the Olympic
village, which was in the nearby town of Brides-les-Bains.
Bret Hedican, who was playing in his second Olympics in 1992, and Kristi married eight years later. For six of Hedican’s 17 seasons in the National Hockey League, he was a defenseman for the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, North Carolina, and his name was engraved on the Stanley Cup in 2006 when the Hurricanes won the NHL championship. He later played for the San Jose Sharks.
There was only one time during my coverage that I was aware of a strain in my relationship with the Yamaguchis. That was when Carole accidentally blurted out to me in a phone call that Kristi had decided to retire from competitive figure skating and not go to the 1994 Lillehammer Games. I immediately told her on the call that I would have to write that story even though she wanted me to wait for a press conference in a few days.
Whatever upset there may have been at that point must have been minor. In 1997 during the months leading up to the Nagano Winter Olympics, Kristi asked if I would collaborate on a book she had a contract to write. Figure Skating for Dummies was timed for pre-Olympic release. After agreeing with the editors at the Mercury News that I would no longer write Yamaguchi stories, I was given time off to complete the book.
… For Yamaguchi it has been enough to let her skating speak for her, to make her quiet case in a sport grown increasingly noisy.
''They've been taught not to brag," Yamaguchi's coach, Christy Kjarsgaard-Ness, said of her skater's family. "They've all been taught not to talk about themselves. They've been taught to always say nice things. …
This piece was written a month before the Olympics for a special section published nearer the opening of the Albertville Games. I wrote it late Sunday night over room service in a hotel room in Orlando, Florida, where I had just covered the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which served that year as the Olympic trials. I filed the story after midnight and the next morning caught the first of three flights that took me to Moscow, where I would report stories covered elsewhere in this archive.
ALBERTVILLE, France – The alchemists of the Middle Ages, some of whom stirred their cauldrons among the very mountains where the Winter Olympics are being held, never found the magic recipe that would turn baser materials into gold.
They had not heard of figure skating, a perverse formula of sport and show, image and reality, innocence and sexuality that – blended once every four years – produces a woman of fame and wealth unapproached by any other Winter Games personality. …
Traditionally the women’s competition is the last of the four figure skating medals to be decided and is held on Wednesday and Friday evenings in the Games’ second and final week. I wrote this set-up piece for publication in the middle Sunday of coverage to explain the importance of this particular competition in the post-Olympic scheme of things, particularly in regard to the financial future of the winner and what affected it. The piece also touches on the anti-Japanese sentiment during that period in the United States because of the purchase of large real estate holdings by Japanese investors. Both Yamaguchi and her chief rival for the gold medal had Japanese ancestry.
ALBERTVILLE, France -- The world is different than it was Friday.
Kristi Yamaguchi has her gold medal; the world has a new best friend.
The children pressed against the fence around the Olympic Ice Hall after practice for Saturday's skating exhibition are holding pens and tickets, postcards and Kristi photos. ''We're going to have to get used to this," Jim Yamaguchi says to his wife, Carole, as they slip out the gate, leaving their daughter to fend for herself against the ankle-biters. …
This is the day-after piece mentioned in the story on the left, a day when the Yamaguchi family is confronted for the first time with what Kristi’s gold medal will mean in their future lives.