If you were an Asian-American kid (or perhaps not) growing up in the 1990s, you probably would have recognized at least one of these names and might have even called them your role models at one point.
(Then) In 1992, Kristi Yamaguchi became the first Asian-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in any sport when she took home the ultimate prize over Japan’s Midori Ito. Yamaguchi initially started skating when she was very young as therapy for her club feet, and turned out to excel in both the singles’ and pairs’ disciplines—a rare achievement in the sport. With partner Rudy Galindo, she won the World Junior Championships in 1988, along with a number of individual successes. After their split, her career took off in an upward trajectory leading up to her Olympic triumph, including a National and World titles.
(Now) After the Olympics, Yamaguchi retired from amateur skating and had immense success on the professional and show circuits for a number of years. Six years after winning Olympic gold and a second World title, she was inducted into both the 1998 U.S. Figure Skating and World Figure Skating Halls of Fame.
Yamaguchi and her professional partner Mark Ballas were the champions of the sixth season of Dancing With the Stars in 2008. In addition, she published a children’s book called Dream Big, Little Pig in 2011, which reached #2 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Yamaguchi is married to retired professional hockey player Bret Hedican and the couple have two children together.
(Then) Best known for her role as part of the “Magnificent Seven” (the nickname for the 1996 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team), Amy Chow was the first Asian-American woman to medal at the Olympics in gymnastics, bringing home a team gold and a silver in uneven bars. She was also known as “The Trickster,” due to the impressive skill set that she displayed on each of the four apparatuses—and had two gymnastics moves named after her.
(Now) Chow was inducted in the U.S. Hall of Fame twice—first in 1998 for being part of the Magnificent Seven, and again in 2005 for her individual achievements.
She later earned a belated team bronze medal in 2010 for her capacity as a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team after the IOC ruled that the original bronze-medal winning team be stripped of their medals due to one of their members being underage at the time.
In addition to gymnastics, Chow is also a competitive diver, and missed competing for a spot to the 2011 National diving championships due to an injury. She graduated from Stanford University’s medical school in 2007 and is now, with her husband, a licensed physician practicing in northern California.
(Then) In 1998, hearts all across America and the rest of the world broke for Michelle Kwan, who had been considered the top favorite for Olympic gold going into Nagano, after she lost to compatriot Tara Lipinski. But the maturity and grace she showed as she handled her defeat are what truly endeared her to the American public and would do so for many more years to come. She would later go on to win seven more National titles and four more World titles, in fact—bringing her total to nine National and five World titles.
(Now) After cementing her status as a legend by being the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history (and arguably the most decorated figure skater never to win an Olympic gold), Kwan was named a non-salaried public diplomacy ambassador by then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in 2006—a role she continued into the Obama Administration, and has worked with Rice’s successor Hillary Clinton.
She went on to complete her undergraduate studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies in 2009 and graduate studies at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 2011. She was also named a a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and added to the board of the Special Olympics those same years, respectively. In late 2012, it was reported that she was employed by the U.S. State Department as a senior adviser for public diplomacy and public affairs.
Kwan was also the sole inductee for both the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating and World Figure Skating Halls of Fame. She married Clay Pell, grandson of the late Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell, in January 2013. Much like in her competition days, her dress was a custom design by Vera Wang.
Fun fact: All three hail from California. Kristi and Amy are both either from or have trained in San Jose, where Michelle Kwan (who is from Torrance in southern California), won her first National title in 1996.
After taking time off from her biology degree at Stanford University and asking her coach of nineteen years to come out of retirement to train her for the 2000 Olympic Games, Amy Chow scores a 9.687 on the balance beam and places second all around at the 2000 U.S. Olympic trials and is successfully named to her second consecutive Olympic Team. (x)
“I’m proud of Shawn and Gabby, but I’m also proud to have produced 499 individual state champions and students who go on to compete at top gymnastics colleges like Nebraska, Iowa State, Denver and Florida.” ~Liang Chow