Commentary

Yamaguchi prepares for 'Dancing with the Stars'-mania

Updated: March 14, 2008, 12:35 PM ET
By Amy Rosewater | Special to ESPN.com

Kristi Yamaguchi reached the pinnacle of any skater's dreams: She won a national title as both a singles skater and pairs skater. She claimed two world titles and the big daddy of awards, an Olympic gold medal.

Advice for Kristi

Helio Castroneves knows a thing or two about dancing. He is, after all, the defending "Dancing with the Stars" champion. So, he has some advice for "Stars" newbie Kristi Yamaguchi -- work hard, and a kiss can't hurt.
• Rosewater: Q&A with Helio Castroneves
• ABC: "Stars" returns! Monday, 8 p.m. ET

But come Monday, as race car champion Helio Castroneves warns, the world might forget about all of Yamaguchi's skating accolades. In fact, Castroneves says, the world might forget that Yamaguchi ever skated at all.

That's because on Monday, Yamaguchi will be making her debut on the ABC hit, "Dancing with the Stars." When you're on that show, it seems contestants take on an entirely new role. Instead of being interviewed by the usual sports suspects, they're sitting down and chatting with Oprah and featured in Us Weekly.

"If Kristi Yamaguchi advances to the finals, forget about it," says Castroneves, the most recent "Stars" champion who also happens to have two Indy 500 titles to his credit. "Everybody is going to recognize her. Before I started 'Dancing with the Stars,' I was a race car driver. When I finished the competition, I was a dancer who could drive."

The following are some thoughts from Yamaguchi, the skater. In about six weeks, we'll have to check back and see if she can still lace up her skates. She might be too busy doing the Cha-Cha.

Question from Amy Rosewater: Before you were asked to appear on "Dancing with the Stars," did you watch the show?

Answer from Kristi Yamaguchi: Yeah, definitely. I'm from the Bay Area and I'm a 49ers fan, so Jerry Rice got [me and my family] into the show. I'm friends with Apolo Anton Ohno, so I watched him, too.

[+] EnlargeKristi Yamaguchi
Brian Ach/WireImageKristi Yamaguchi has won Olympic gold, but can she master the Fox Trot?

Q: How were you contacted to be a contestant?

A: They sent me an e-mail. It took me a while to make a decision. I thought it would be fun to learn how to dance, but my first reaction was, "Gosh, I don't know." I knew it would be a huge time commitment, and with two young kids (daughters Keara, 4, and Emma, 2), I just didn't know how it would work out.

Q: Your husband, Bret Hedican, plays in the NHL for the Carolina Hurricanes, so it's not as if he can be a stay-at-home dad while you're dancing. How are you handling everything?

A: It's been a little tough. He's not around to be a full-time caregiver, especially since the NHL season is going on now. His mom has helped out, and I'll bring the kids to California and my family can help out there.

Q: What was your daughters' reaction to having Mom be on the show?

A: They're kind of used to going to shows because of all of the skating shows, but we've sat down and watched ["Dancing with the Stars"] and they love to watch it and dress up and dance. My one daughter told her teacher that I was going to be on the show. They're very excited.

Q: How is Bret as a dancer? Is he helping you practice?

A: I've been trying to dance around the house and get him to dance with me. I haven't taught him anything yet. After this whole thing, I will.

Q: Most people probably assume that, as a figure skater, you've had formal dance training. Is that a fair assumption?

A: When I was growing up and in my early teens, I had some ballet. But beyond that, no.

Q: In addition to being an Olympic gold medalist as a singles skater, you also won two U.S. pairs skating titles with Rudy Galindo. Do you think your experience working with a partner will help you on the show?

A: Working with a partner will be different for sure, especially getting to know someone really quickly. Mark [Ballas, Yamaguchi's "Stars" partner] has been great and very professional. It's been fun working with him.

Q: Has it been hard to learn how to dance?

A: Right now, I've been focused on the Fox Trot. I'm learning different techniques and different ways to use my body. So far, it's been fun.

Q: Are you more nervous about being on this show than you were before you competed in the Olympics in Albertville?

A: I don't know if I can say more nervous. For the Olympics, I was focused on it for years and years. This, I'm nervous because it's something I've never done before. Is everything going to click again? I don't know. It's a little nerve-wracking.

Q: What do other skaters think of you being on the show?

A: They're really excited. Kurt [Browning] called me and told me he can't wait to watch me on TV.

Q: Have you been able to skate at all since you started rehearsing for the show?

A: No. I haven't skated since December.

Q: The ratings for this show have been huge. I read that about 25 million Americans tuned in to the 2006 season finale, which was well ahead of the number of Americans who tuned in to the Closing Ceremonies for the 2006 Olympics. What do you make of this phenomenon?

A: It's probably one of the more high-profile things I've ever done. The ratings are pretty crazy. The whole show is so popular right now.

Q: What's been eye-opening about being a part of this show?

A: Everything. The first thing was going on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." It was amazing. It was an honor. I had never done that before. Meeting the ["Stars"] cast has been fun. Everyone's an entertainer. The training is tough, too. It's a lot of work.

Q: Have you ever voted for anyone on the show?

A: Yeah. I voted for Apolo. He's come to a couple of my foundation fundraisers. He's a great guy. He called me [earlier this month], but I missed his call and now he's in Asia. I wanted to get some advice.

Q: Speaking of voting, do you think figure skating should spice things up and have fans vote for the winners instead of having judges?

A: [Laughs] No, no. That wouldn't work at all. But it's fine for entertainment.

Amy Rosewater, a freelance writer based in Baltimore, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.