Kristi Yamaguchi Returns With New Olympic Role, "Faces of America"

Kristi Yamaguchi

Yamaguchi explores her family history on the PBS special "Faces of America."

Whether she’s performing a triple loop or dancing the cha-cha, Olympic gold medalist and Dancing with the Stars winner Kristi Yamaguchi is always entertaining. So we were pleased to hear that she’ll be doubly visible this month, both as a Today Show and Universal Sports correspondent for the XXI Olympic Winter Games, and as one of the 12 celebrities whose ancestral roots are examined in the four-part PBS series Faces of America, premiering tonight at 8 p.m. ET.

Yamaguchi, 38, recently told us she learned a great deal about her ancestry while working on the PBS show. Historian, author and Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Ph.D., the program’s host and writer/producer, traced Yamaguchi’s roots from Japan to Hawaii and California via public records and back even further with the help of DNA testing. Her grandfathers’ families were rounded up and imprisoned in a concentration camp in Arizona during World War II, but never met there.

“It was really fascinating. So many revelations,” says Yamaguchi, whose grandfathers’ determination to succeed in America despite hardships “makes me so much more appreciative and proud as an American, proud of my Japanese heritage, and wanting to make the most out of life here for my family.”

The mother of two daughters, Keara Kiyomi, 6, and Emma Yoshiko, 4, Yamaguchi makes them aware of their ethnicity on both her side and her Irish-American husband’s. “I want them to connect with their Japanese heritage and the values my parents raised me with that I’d like to pass on. Unfortunately, because of the situation my family was in during WWII, a lot of the culture was lost. It’s my generation now that’s trying to celebrate it.”

Yamaguchi, who’ll also be seen in the upcoming Jennifer Siebel Newsom documentary Miss Representation, about the role of women in government and their portrayal in entertainment and media (watch the riveting trailer here), reveals that her daughters are learning to skate now. If they want to follow in her boot steps, “I would totally support it,” she says. “I want to expose them to as much as possible so they can decide what they want to do.”

As for her outlook on Vancouver 2010, which kicks off this Friday? “I think we’re going to have a great team, led by Evan Lysacek, the current world champion,” Yamaguchi says. “Figure skating is a performance sport so the audience really gets engaged and seeing the evolution of it is great,” she says. Still skating herself, she toured last fall for the first time in years. “I was definitely rusty, but it was fun.”

What part of the Olympics are you looking forward to most?

Photo credit: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic