Kristi Yamaguchi Remembers History-Making Gold Medal Win at 1992 Olympics: 'How Could I Be the One?' (Exclusive)

The figure skating champion was the first Asian American to take home the gold medal in the sport

<p>AP Photo / Al Messerschmidt</p> Kristi Yamaguchi at 1992 Olympics

AP Photo / Al Messerschmidt

Kristi Yamaguchi at 1992 Olympics

Kristi Yamaguchi made history when she ascended the medal podium at the 1992 Olympic Games in Albertville, France — and now she's looking back on the whirlwind.

At just 20 years old, the figure skater scored the gold medal in ladies' singles, becoming the first Asian American woman to do so at the Olympics.

Reflecting on her whirlwind trip to the Winter Games — her only time competing at the Olympics — Yamaguchi tells PEOPLE that there are "specific moments" that she will never forget, even decades later.

"It was a wave of emotions," she recalls to PEOPLE exclusively. "I still feel it. Even watching athletes now when they become Olympic champions, the tears come back because I remember that feeling so well. It's relief, surprisingly, but also happiness and disbelief too. It also took a long time until I actually believed it and thought, 'Wow, how could I be the one?' It definitely changed my life."

<p>Heinz Kluetmeier /Sports Illustrated via Getty</p> Kristi Yamaguchi at 1992 Olympics

Heinz Kluetmeier /Sports Illustrated via Getty

Kristi Yamaguchi at 1992 Olympics

Related: Kristi Yamaguchi and Daughter Keara, 20, Enjoy Celebration of Japanese Culture as They Attend SHOGUN Premiere

She says she couldn't have done it without her "incredible support team," including her family and coaches. They helped create a foundation for her from a young age and surrounded her when she moved into life after the Olympics.

"I think my family's commitment to the community instilled in me to continue to give back and create Always Dream, which is a nonprofit celebrating our 28th year," she says. "It's continued to give me purpose to make positive change in the world. I'm just grateful for the amazing people who were there for me through thick and thin."

Yamaguchi, now 52, was recently honored with an Inspiring Women Barbie for AAPI Heritage Month, and her doll is wearing the same skating outfit that she wore while competing at the Olympics. Her Barbie even has teeny-tiny skates on. Yamaguchi tells PEOPLE that bringing this Barbie to life as part of the Inspiring Women series was just as important as the representation for children as part of AAPI Heritage Month.

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<p>Mattel Inc.</p> Kristi Yamaguchi Barbie

Mattel Inc.

Kristi Yamaguchi Barbie

“I think for AAPI Month, it's all about shining the spotlight on the Asian-American culture and celebrating it, and celebrating the stories and the triumphs and some of the hardships too,” Yamaguchi, who is of Japanese descent, tells PEOPLE.

“But I think that it's meaningful to the community to have positive stories out there and symbols to inspire the next generation — or even [to encourage] the current generation to persevere and to go after their dreams and know that it's possible," she continues. "If it's happened before, it can happen again. Even if it hasn't happened yet, they can blaze their own trail. It's a huge honor and it's a lot of pride being able to have it showcased during AAPI Month.”

In honor of Yamaguchi’s doll and in support of AAPI Heritage Month, Barbie will split a $25,000 Barbie Dream Gap donation between Yamaguchi’s foundation Always Dream and ASPIRE (Asian Sisters Participating in Reaching Excellence). The donation aims to support and empower Asian American women and girls while building a community that fosters education and mentorship.

Yamaguchi’s doll and the other dolls in the Inspiring Women Series are available now.

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