USA enjoys figure skating clean sweep

Picture by IOC

In the aftermath of the Second World War, American figure skaters went about revolutionising their sport, adopting a more athletic and acrobatic approach. Skaters such as Dick Button (USA), who was crowned Olympic men’s champion in 1948 and 1952, and who was the first to pull off a double axel and the first triple jump of any sort (a triple toe loop), as well as the flying camel spin, which became known as the “Button Camel”.

Hayes Alan Jenkins, who was four years’ Button’s junior, joined him in the US team towards the end of the 1940s. He took part in the 1952 Games in Oslo, where he finished fourth at the age of 19. “Dick’s skating had a real influence on me – it drew me towards the free skate part of figure skating,” he explained. “The revolutionary aspect stemmed from his jumps, and also the fact that he gave meaning to the music. Dick did athletic things on the ice that had quite simply never been done before.”

Following Button’s retirement, Jenkins won three consecutive world championship titles, in 1953 in Davos (SUI), 1954 in Oslo (NOR) and 1955 in Vienna (AUT). In Cortina, he was part of a formidable US figure skating team that included Ronald Robertson (USA), who had finished second at the Worlds in 1955, and his younger brother, David Jenkins (USA), who had taken a bronze medal in the same competition. Remarkably, the Americans would repeat that feat in Italy, pulling off a clean sweep of the medals.

For the last time at the Olympic Winter Games, the figure skating events were held outdoors, on the Olympic Stadium’s artificial ice rink. After the compulsory routines on 29 January, Hayes Jenkins held the lead with 852 points; Robertson (840.10) and David Jenkins (837.30) sat second and third.

In the free skate on 1 February, the American trio attempted to outdo each other with a series of incredible jumps and spins. Hayes Jenkins, skating to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade, seemed particularly in tune with his music, while Robertson had fans off their seats with an acrobatic performance that was enough for him to win the segment by a small margin. Despite this, the advantage that Hayes Jenkins had gained in the compulsory routines proved sufficient for him to claim the gold medal, while his younger sibling held onto the bronze medal position to complete an unforgettable day for the Jenkins family.

The 1956 Games would prove memorable for Hayes Jenkins in other ways, as he would eventually marry a figure skating competitor he met there, Carol Heiss, who won a silver medal behind Tenley Albright in Cortina and would later reign supreme at Squaw Valley 1960. They would go on to have three children together.

Robertson and the Hayes brothers continued their friendly rivalry at the 1956 World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The final result was an identical replica of that in Cortina, as Hayes Jenkins earned his fourth global crown and promptly retired. At the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley, David Jenkins finally stepped out of his brother’s shadow to win Olympic gold.