Heiss Jenkins, Carol Elizabeth

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HEISS JENKINS, Carol Elizabeth

(b. 20 January 1940 in New York City), gold medal figure skater at the 1960 Winter Olympics who also won the silver medal in 1956 and five consecutive world championships.

Heiss, the oldest of the three children born to Edward Heiss and Marie Gademann Heiss, grew up in the working-class area of Ozone Park, Queens, in New York City. Her father, who was a baker, and her mother, a freelance textile designer, had emigrated separately from Germany in the 1920s and met in the United States. Although the family was never financially affluent, Heiss's parents supported her pursuits in the expensive sport of figure skating, and her brother Bruce Heiss and her sister Nancy Heiss also became accomplished skaters. Carol received her first pair of ice skates for Christmas when she was four years old and, displaying talent at the sport, soon began to take lessons. She rose early each morning to skate at the Iceland Rink atop Madison Square Garden, where she was coached by the former Olympic pairs champions Andrée Brunet and Pierre Brunet.

At the age of eleven Heiss won her first national title, the National Novice Championship. Just two years later she placed second at the 1953 National Championship behind Tenley Albright, as she did for the next three years. She also finished in fourth place at the 1953 World Championship. In 1954 a collision with her sister during practice resulted in a severed tendon that prevented her from competing at the world competition that year. She returned to the ice for the 1955 World Championship, but she was unable to beat Albright once again and had to settle for the silver medal.

At the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, Heiss distinguished herself as the first woman to complete a double axel jump. Despite this achievement, the gold medal went to Albright by a narrow margin, 169.6 points to Heiss's 168.1 points, which secured her the silver medal. Rumors held that a feud transpired between the two skaters when it appeared that Heiss would not pose for photos with her rival or congratulate her, and later at the World Championship Heiss stayed at a different hotel from the rest of the skating team. Both women denied these charges, asserting their friendship.

At the World Championship in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, following the Olympics, Heiss finally dethroned her chief competitor after a near-perfect performance of compulsory ("school") figures, which at that time counted for 60 percent of the score. She also executed a free program that included two double axels, a double flip, double loops, and a flying sit spin. Awarded six first and three second places from the nine judges, the petite sixteen-year-old skater, distinguished by her blonde ponytail hairdo that resembled a propeller when she spun around the ice, became the youngest to win this title since Sonja Henie had won at the age of fifteen. At the National Championship that followed, however, Heiss once again had to settle for second place behind Albright, who retired after that competition.

In October 1956 Heiss's mother died of cancer, and the teenager took over running the household and caring for her two younger siblings. In 1957, after graduating from the Professional Children's School, she enrolled in New York University on a full scholarship to study English while continuing her training. She won five consecutive World Championships beginning in 1956 and four consecutive national titles from 1957 to 1960.

The only title that eluded Heiss was that of Olympic gold medalist, but the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, offered her a second chance. At the opening ceremonies she took the Olympic Oath on behalf of all the participating athletes, the first woman to perform this honor. Her free program, which included such difficult moves as the Axel Paulsen, the spread eagle, and the arabesque spin, was far more intricate than that of any of her competitors, who this time did not include Albright. The nine judges unanimously awarded Heiss first place, and she won the gold medal by a wide margin.

Following her Olympic victory, Heiss asserted that she would not become a professional skater. She added one more World Championship to her list of credits and then changed her mind, going on to do product endorsements and show skating. She also starred in a B movie, Snow White and the Three Stooges, released in 1961, for which she earned $100,000. She used the money to pay college tuitions for her brother and sister as well as her own debt for back lessons.

On 30 April 1960 Heiss, who came from a family of skaters, married into another family of skaters when she wed Hayes Alan Jenkins, the 1956 men's figure skating gold medalist whose brother was the Olympic champion in 1960. She moved to his home in Akron, Ohio, where he worked as a lawyer following his graduation from Harvard Law School. After retiring from her career as a figure skater around 1961, Carol Heiss Jenkins raised one son and two daughters.

In 1973 Heiss Jenkins was inducted into the Ice Skating Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, and in 1976 she was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Association Hall of Fame. In 1978, when an indoor ice rink was built in Akron, she began her coaching career. Later she went to the Winterhurst Ice Rink in Lakewood, Ohio, where she coached top national and international skaters, including Timothy Goebel, Tonia Kwiatkowski, Lisa Ervin, and Aren Nielsen.

Heiss Jenkins's figure skating style combined grace and strength, as demonstrated in such difficult moves as the double axel. During the era in which she competed, figure skating experienced a transition from its focus on artistry to a mixture of art and athleticism, and she embodied this change. Her rivalry with Albright added drama to the skating scene of the mid-1950s. During her skating career Heiss Jenkins was considered by some experts as the best American female figure skater of all time, notable because of the young age at which she became a world-class skater.

A biographical sketch of Heiss in Current Biography (1959) covers her life until 1959. Another contemporary view of her life is J. K. Lagemann's essay, "Meet the Champion," Reader's Digest (Apr. 1959). For a detailed description of her performance in the 1956 Olympics, see the New York Times (3 Feb. 1956); for an account of her World Championship upset victory, see the New York Times (19 Feb. 1956); and for her 1960 Olympic win, see the New York Times (24 Feb. 1960). Amy Rosewater, "Olympic Dream Revisited," Cleveland Plain Dealer (9 Feb. 2000), provides an in-depth look at her activities as a coach.

Arlene R. Quaratiello