Norway won't be part of Yamaguchi's routine


After talking with her parents, her coach, her agent and her peers, reigning Olympic women's skating gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi finally listened to her heart and arrived at the most important decision of her career yesterday.

The result: She shut the door on appearing at the 1994 Winter Games of Lillehammer, Norway.

"I let my heart decide, and this is what I want to do," Yamaguchi said during a conference call yesterday.

Yamaguchi, winner of the women's gold at the 1992 Albertville Games, declined to join the rush of professionals who are regaining their competitive eligibility with the International Skating Union.

Already, 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt has applied for reinstatement. Brian Boitano, the 1988 men's champion; Viktor Petrenko, the 1992 men's champion; and 1988 pairs champions Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov are expected to ask for reinstatement by an April 1 deadline.

Dance legends Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean may even stage an Olympic comeback.

But not Yamaguchi.

Her announcement, although expected, was a blow to the United States' medal chances next year in Norway.

The Americans are coming off their worst performance in decades at the World Championships, where they failed to get a medal. The outcome leaves the U.S. with only two women's singles, two men's, three pairs and once dance team slot for the 1994 Games.

Despite a new crop of teen-age skating stars, led by world champion Oksana Baiul of Ukraine, Yamaguchi, 22, would have been favored for a second Olympic gold.

But the results from the 1993 Worlds in Prague played a limited role in Yamaguchi's decision.

"I wouldn't say the worlds was the deciding factor," she said. "But it helped to reinforce my decision."

Yamaguchi burst upon the international scene in Baltimore, at the 1989 U.S. Championships, when she finished second behind Jill Trenary in singles and teamed with Rudy Galindo for the first of their two national pairs championships.

A delicate, artistic skater, Yamaguchi seemed to float across the ice. But she mastered a full array of triple jumps to join the sport's top rank, finally winning the world singles crown in 1991.

A year later, she dominated the sport, winning her first national title, the Olympic gold and the world championships.

Now, she'll step aside, leaving 1992 bronze medalist Nancy Kerrigan as the top U.S. medal hope for Lillehammer.

"I feel relieved," Yamaguchi said. "A big weight's been lifted from my shoulders. The past few months I've been thinking about it. Everywhere I go, the question's been asked."

"Looking back at Albertville, it was just my dream to make the team," she said. "It was very relaxing. There wasn't much expected of me. It was so great. At Lillehammer, so much more would be expected of me. Right now, I'm just enjoying the skating."

And the fact is, Yamaguchi said, she is skating better than ever.

"I love the performing and being able to do so many different things on the ice," she said. "I think it's taken my skating to another level."

She'll skip Norway. She'll continue to skate professionally. And who knows? She could even come back for the 1998 Winter Games of Nagano, Japan.

"I just want to get through this year," she said.

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