I don’t really hate Kristi Yamaguchi. Nobody can possibly hate Kristi Yamaguchi. She’s adorable. Kristi Yamaguchi is everything I’m not. She’s sweet, cute, composed, professional - in addition to being an Olympic athlete. She is also unbelievably polite. I have personal knowledge of exactly how polite Kristi Yamaguchi is. I do not hate Kristi Yamaguchi. But those words still scream through my head every time I see her image on TV.
During the winter Olympics this year I saw historical clips of Kristi Yamaguchi as well as other Olympic ice skaters from my era. My daughter Erika watched the Olympics with me and every time Kristi Yamaguchi came on the screen I’d point to the TV and say, “You met her. You met Kristi Yamaguchi. How cool is that?”
“Cool,” my daughter would agree. She meant it. I mean, Kristi Yamaguchi really is adorable. Who wouldn’t want to meet her? Seriously. But my daughter doesn’t remember the whole story of the day she met Kristi Yamaguchi.
It was during a holiday promotional event in San Francisco at an ice rink. We were attending with another family, close friends of ours. Our daughters were both about four at the time. We laced the ice skates firmly onto their little feet and forced the dads to go out on the ice with them.
After a couple of hours of festivities and hot cocoa, Kristi Yamaguchi made an appearance and a number of kids swarmed her asking her to pose for photos with them. Parents were snapping away. My friend Peggy and I got caught up in the frenzy. “It’s Kristi Yamaguchi,” we told our kids excitedly. “Go stand by her so we can get a photo.”
My daughter responded to my nudging and started to shyly move forward. Kristi Yamaguchi gave her a kind smile and waved her over. I noticed Peggy nudging her daughter over as well. Juju wouldn’t budge.
“It’s Kristi Yamaguchi. Let’s get a photo. Come on,” Peggy pleaded.
“No.” Juju was a master at resistance. It was a trait I usually admired in her. Not so much on that day.
“Please. Come on, it’s Kristi Yamaguchi.” Peggy tugged Juju’s hand, pulling her in the direction of the lovely ice-skating queen. She was only about ten feet away. So close. Her skin was perfect.
My daughter stood between her friend and Kristi, wavering uncertainly. Kristi Yamaguchi hadn’t yet noticed the unwilling child we were trying to negotiate with.
I crouched in front of Juju and tried. “It’s Kristi Yamaguchi. Kristi Yamaguchi,” I repeated. Juju glared at Kristi and still wouldn’t move. She did not have a clue who this Kristi Yamaguchi was, only that she was the source of her own personal inconvenience and her mom’s insanity. There was no way to explain our reasoning to a tired four-year-old jacked up on hot chocolate and cookies. But we wanted the photo. We wanted it bad.
Peggy lifted Juju by her armpits. She was a forty pounds, max, and on ice skates. The kid didn’t have a chance. We were going to get our photo. Just one little photo. No harm, right?
Peggy carried her a few feet. Juju arched her back and resisted. Peggy set her down and paused, and then lifted her again. That’s when Juju started screaming. It was not the normal four-year-old tantrum stuff. Juju was smarter than that. She screamed, “I HATE KRISTI YAMAGUCHI!”
The name came out as one word KRISTIYAMAGUCHI. As if KRISTIYAMAGUCHI was some sort of genetically engineered type of Brussels sprouts with double the bad taste. (My apologies if you like Brussels sprouts. I don’t.)
Peggy and I looked at each other, horrified. One glance at Kristi Yamaguchi, and we could see she might not have noticed. But Juju wasn’t done.
“I HATE KRISTI YAMAGUCHI!” she screamed louder. Then she began repeating the phrase, over and over. "I HATE KRISTI YAMAGUCHI. I HATE KRISTI YAMAGUCHI. I HATE KRISTI YAMAGUCHI."
I took a few steps back, deciding not to be associated with the scene. Parents turned to stare. Toddlers in their festive holiday scarves and hats stood and watched. Little ice-skating prodigies in glittery attire and perfect white skates gaped as their idol was verbally assaulted.
Peggy was on her knees begging Juju to stop. But she wouldn’t. Of course she wouldn’t. Juju’s voice carried across the rink, “I HATE KRISTI YAMAGUCHI!”
I watched Kristi Yamaguchi’s face as the realization of what Juju was screaming sunk in. Still, the sweet smile didn’t slip. The only indication she’d heard the awful phrase was the concerned knit of her brows and wary glance at us parents. I knew she thought we were bad, psycho parents. We didn’t care. The damage was done. We were still going to get our photo.
And we did get our photo. After a few minutes of I HATE KRISTI YAMAGUCHI, Juju finally calmed down. Peggy thought of some sort of appropriate bribe, though I don’t remember exactly what it was. And Kristi Yamaguchi, smiling into the camera, stood politely with our children while Peggy clicked away. The woman deserved a medal for her performance that night. She remained poised and kind while being heckled by a four-year-old. I’m pretty sure she hated us. But we did get our photo.