The disco-ball trophy that goes to the winner of "Dancing with the Stars" (7 p.m., Ch. 4) is big, glittery and, some would say, oh-so tacky. But right about now it's looking like a thing of dazzling beauty to Kristi Yamaguchi, who would love to put it on display in her Alamo, Calif., home.
"It might clash with the furniture a little bit," she admits. "Think about it, though: It would be a great conversation piece."
But first, Yamaguchi and her partner, Mark Ballas, need to prevail in the finals of the popular show, which get under way tonight. Having consistently displayed a technical superiority since Week 1, they go into the showdown as clear favorites.
Yamaguchi's rivals for the trophy are football star Jason Taylor (teamed with Edyta Sliwinska) and film actor Cristian de la Fuente (teamed with Cheryl Burke), and she's keenly aware that she has a chance to become the show's first female champ since soap star Kelly Monaco in Season 1.
"That just gives me more motivation to generate some girl power out there and get people to believe it can be done," says the Olympic figure-skating gold medalist. "Isn't it about time a woman won it?"
For tonight's performance show, the finalists will take the floor together and go head-to-head in a cha-cha routine. They'll also perform an "anything goes" freestyle dance. On Tuesday, the remaining two couples will repeat a favorite dance done earlier in the season.
"I'm totally excited for the freestyle routine," Yamaguchi says. "We'll definitely be trying some different moves, and with the lifts, it could get a little treacherous. But we plan to leave everything we have on the floor and really go for it."
Clearly, all the choreography training and musical performance skills that helped the graceful Yamaguchi become a champion figure skater haven't hurt her during her stint on "Dancing." She also believes her skating career prepared her to deal with criticism from the show's judges who, at times, have appeared to be extra tough on her because the expectations are so high.
"I think having been in a sport where you're constantly judged has helped me a little bit, mentally," she says. "You learn to deal with the criticism and just be satisfied with doing your personal best rather than worry about your placement. That's what skating is all about."
While the "Dancing" gig has been an amazing experience, it also has been a grueling one, requiring Yamaguchi to maintain a daily rehearsal schedule and forcing her to be separated for long stretches from her hockey-playing husband, Bret Hedican, and their two daughters, Keara, 4, and Emma, 2. She's definitely looking forward to some chill-out time.
After the show ends, her family will pack up their home in Raleigh, N.C., where Hedican has played with the Carolina Hurricanes for the past six years, and relocate permanently to what had been their second home in Alamo. (Hedican became a free agent after this past season.)
As for the future, Yamaguchi is open to participating in the "Dancing with the Stars" live tour next winter and she'd like to do some television analyst work during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. And perhaps she and Hedican might choose to expand their family.
"We haven't talked about it too much, but it's an option we've kept open," she says. "It would be fun to have a little hockey-playing boy for my husband."