April 14, 2008 12:00 PM

Kristi Yamaguchi’s house in Raleigh, N.C., could also pass as the world’s greatest toy store. In place of a dining table, there’s a pink princess-castle playhouse. A miniature kitchen and tea party set—also pink—have taken over what used to be an office. The family room upstairs is home to a giant inflatable bouncy castle for Yamaguchi’s daughters Keara, 4, and Emma, 2. And the former figure skater, 36, couldn’t be happier about her stay-at-home-mom existence these days. “I lived such a high-stress, competitive life early on,” she says. “It feels good to chill out a little more.”

Now the Olympic gold medalist is turning up the heat as a frontrunner on Dancing with the Stars. “I’m a perfectionist. If we didn’t do well, I would have been really upset,” Yamaguchi says. Luckily she’s got nothing to fret about. Yamaguchi—who hesitated over the skimpy costumes (“with figure skating, at least I could wear tights!”)—has earned some of the show’s highest scores for her moves with partner Mark Ballas. Declared judge Len Goodman: “The ice maiden has just melted my heart.”

It’s been a long time since the California native was last twirling for a crowd. After her triumph at the 1992 Olympics, Yamaguchi spent a decade on the pro tour Stars on Ice. In 2002 she quit to start a family with husband Bret Hedican, now 37, a hockey player for the Carolina Hurricanes. “I burnt myself out of skating,” she says. “I was ready to focus on being a mom.”

For her Dancing stint, Yamaguchi is staying in L.A.—and missing the family’s home base in Raleigh, where they live during the hockey season. On weekends, the girls often attend Hedican’s games. “I’ll say, ‘Where’s Daddy? Where’s number six?'” says Yamaguchi with a laugh. “They’ll point him out, then just play the rest of the time.”

It’s easier to concentrate on Mom’s new gig—both girls love to boogie. “They put on their songs and dance around,” says Yamaguchi. Another potential perk? Getting her husband on the dance floor. The pair, who met at the Albertville Olympics in 1992 but didn’t start dating until 1995, have discussed taking ballroom dance lessons since marrying in 2000. “The Moonwalk is his go-to move whenever we’re at a wedding,” says Yamaguchi. Adds Hedican: “After I’ve had a few cocktails and Michael Jackson comes on.”

It’s too soon to tell if Keara and Emma will follow in their parents’ skates. “They love being on the ice,” says Yamaguchi, “but I wouldn’t say they’re open to instruction at this point.” Regardless, she looks forward to being their No. 1 fan. “I don’t know how my mom got up at 4 every morning to take me to the rink, but now I can see why she did it,” she says. “You do anything to make your kids happy.”

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