Heiss-Jenkins, Carol (1940—)

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Heiss-Jenkins, Carol (1940—)

American figure skater who won more international titles than any North American woman skater. Name variations: Carol Heiss. Born Carol Elizabeth Heiss in New York City on January 20, 1940; first child of Marie (Gademann) Heiss (a textile designer) and Edward Heiss (a baker); both parents were from Germany; sister of skater Nancy Heiss ; attended New York University; married Hayes Alan Jenkins (a figure-skating champion), in 1960.

Carol Heiss-Jenkins was born in New York City in 1940, the daughter of Marie Gademann Heiss , a textile designer, and Edward Heiss, a baker. Her love of figure skating came innocently enough with a pair of roller skates, given to her when she was four. Seeing her obvious talent, her parents decided to put her on ice skates, and she began to practice at the Brooklyn Ice Palace where she made her first amateur appearance at age six. At eight, Heiss started lessons with Pierre Brunet and Andrée Joly , world pair champions, and practiced five to eight hours a day for the next few years. Because the financial demands of competitive figure skating are high, Heiss' parents, who were German immigrants working to establish themselves in a new country, scrimped so that their daughter could continue skating. In 1951, Heiss won the National Novice title; the following year, she took the National Junior championship. In 1953, as the youngest member of the U.S. team competing for the World championship in Davos, Switzerland, the 13-year-old finished fourth.

Heiss was well on her way to establishing her preeminence in the skating world when she had a serious accident in 1954. During practice, she collided with her sister whose skate severed the tendon on Heiss' left leg. For several months, the injury took Carol off the ice, but by 1955 she had sufficiently recovered to place second behind Tenley Albright , five years her senior, in the 1955 World Ladies Singles championship in Vienna. For two years, from 1953 to 1955, Albright would be her major competitor, placing first in every event while Heiss consistently placed second. In 1956, when Heiss journeyed to Cortina, Italy, as the youngest girl to skate for the United States in the Winter Olympics, she had promised her terminally ill mother she would win the gold medal. But the narrow margin of victory handed Albright the gold (169.6 points) over Heiss' silver (168.1) and sparked rumors of conflict between the two girls. True or not, the stories added to the drama when, two weeks later, Heiss met Albright again at the World championship in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany. Finally, Heiss outscored her opponent with 5.9s from all nine judges. At 16, she had won her first World title. "The tears she had never shed," reported Life, "when time and again she lost to her perennial rival, Tenley Albright, finally slid down Carol Heiss's cheeks."

Not long after this triumph, her mother died of cancer (October 1956), and Heiss greatly missed her chief supporter. But she went on to win four straight U.S. National Ladies Singles titles (1957 to 1960), four consecutive World titles (1956 to 1959), and two North American crowns (1958 and 1959). It surprised no one that she was the favorite at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics, where her graceful performance easily earned her the women's figure skating title and the Olympic gold medal. Her "magnificent exhibition in the free skating stirred a capacity crowd of 8,500 to tears and cheers," claimed the official U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) report. "Clad in crimson costume, embellished with spangles and a tiara in her blonde hair, she bedazzled the judges, her opposition, and the spectators with her sheer artistry."

That same year, Heiss married Hayes Alan Jenkins, also a figure-skating champion, and retired to devote her efforts to teaching and coaching. (One of her students was Tania Kwiatkowski , national silver medalist in 1996.) Many American champions like Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill would follow in Carol Heiss' footsteps, but none would win as many competitions. Her domination of women's figure skating during the last half of the 1950s helped establish the popularity of the sport among millions of Americans.


Hollander, Phyllis. 100 Greatest Women in Sports. NY: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976.

Moritz, Charles. Current Biography, 1959. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1960.

The Olympic Story. Danbury, CT: Grolier, 1979.

Parker, Robert. Carol Heiss: Olympic Queen. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961.

Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes: Who They Are and How They Influenced Sports in America. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1992.

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Heiss gamely played the part of Snow White in the 1961 movie Snow White and the Three Stooges, starring the inevitable Larry, Moe, and Curly.

Karin L. Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia