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    Retrospective: The 1956 Olympics

    Retrospective takes a look back at the 1956 Olympics

    The key facts in relation to these Olympics are:-

    • American figure skaters dominated the singles events at these Olympics, winning 5 of the 6 medals (Ingrid Wendl of Austria winning the bronze medal in the ladies competition)

    • Hayes Alan Jenkins wins the Olympic title. He had finished 4th at the 1952 Olympics (won by Dick Button). In the lead up to the 1956 Olympics, he had won the world title on 3 consecutive occasions between 1953-55, and he retained his world title 2 weeks after the Olympics to win it for a 4th consecutive time. He then retired to pursue a legal career. He later married 1960 Olympic champion, Carol Heiss. Between 1953 and his retirement in 1956, he remained unbeaten. A good free skater, his main strength was in school figures, where he would build up huge leads. He would then look to defend that lead with often conservative free skating performances.

    • Hayes Alan Jenkins main rival was Ronnie Robertson. Robertson was the greatest free skater of his era. A renowned showman, he was known as "the king of spin" and "the human blur" due to the quality and speed of his spins. Some believe that he was the fastest spinner in figure skating history, with NASA scientists once estimating that he could spin at 420 revolutions a minute (which translates to over 100mph)! His jumps were just as good as well, and he became the first skater to land a triple salchow in competition at the 1955 World Championships. Although Hayes Alan Jenkins remained undefeated between 1953 and his retirement in 1956, he was involved in some titanic battles with Robertson. Robertson would normally win the free skating section, but the huge leads Jenkins would build up in the compulsories (which made up 60% of the score) meant that Jenkins always won. In fact, Robertson only ever lost the free skate to Jenkins once - at the 1956 U.S. Nationals. Nevertheless, in the Olympic competition itself, Robertson's free program was so good, that he almost succeeded in eroding Jenkins enormous lead from the compulsories, to take the title. In fact, it was so close, that it took the judges 2 hours to calculate that Jenkins had won by just 7 tenths of a point. Robertson later said of the loss: ''That cost me $1 million'' - what he believed he could of made from ice show contracts had he won the gold. Instead, after retiring at the end of the 1955/56 season, he signed a 2 year contract for $100,000 with Ice Capades. Sadly, Robertson passed away in 2000 at the age of just 62 from complications from pneumonia. He once said that he "would like to be remembered as the best skating entertainer."

    • In terms of Robertsons retirement without a world or Olympic title, the results were at the time, and remain, controversial. Robertson's amateur career ended with him being accused of claiming excessive expanses during a European tour. Consequently, he was almost disqualified from Nationals. Robertson's father, Albert, stated: "This thing reeks of politics....I have so much stuff, I could blow the lid off....This is ridiculous....If Ronnie is to be charged, at least he should be given the full story and the full facts....They fix it, they rig it so that Ronnie cannot beat the Jenkins figures in his free skating." Furthermore, at the time, Robertson was involved in a relationships with the actor, Tab Hunter (before embarking on a career in acting, Hunter was actually a figure skater who competed in both singles and pairs). In fact, Hunter actually helped finance Robertson's amateur career. In his autobiography, Hunter recounts: "Years later, [I was] told…[that] there were plenty of whispers behind our backs about me and Ronnie….[and that]… a well-connected person….said, 'Ronnie Robertson didn't have a chance at the Worlds as long as he was with Tab Hunter'".

    • Hayes Alan Jenkin's younger brother, David, won the bronze. David Jenkins would go on to win gold at the 1960 Olympics.

    • Tenley Albright wins the Olympic title in the ladies event. Albright had won the silver medal at the 1952 Olympics behind Jeannette Altwegg of Great Britain. After winning that Silver, Albright then won the world title for the first time at the 1953 world championships. However, she lost her world title the following year to Gundi Busch of West Germany. This made Busch the favourite for the Olympic title in 1956. However, immediately after winning the 1954 world title, Busch decided to take up an offer from the Hollywood Ice Revue, and promptly retired. Albright then regained her world title at the 1955 world championships, re-establishing herself as the favourite for the Olympic title. Her main challenger for the title was her compatriot, Carol Heiss. However, just 2 weeks before the Olympics, Albright cut her right ankle joint to the bone with her left skate when she was brought down by a rut in the ice. Nevertheless, her father, a surgeon, was able to stitch it up and she was able to recover in time to compete. Albright won both the compulsories and the free program narrowly over Heiss, to take the title.

    • Albright and Heiss competed again 2 weeks after the Olympics at the World Championships. The contest was another close one, with Heiss taking the title. Nevertheless, shortly afterwards, Albright would beat Heiss at U.S. Nationals. Albright then retired to pursue a medical career as a surgeon. Heiss continued competing for another 4 years, and went on to take the 1960 Olympic title.

    • Going into the Olympics, the favourites for the pairs title were Frances Dafoe & Norris Bowden. They were the reigning world champions, having won the world title on 2 consecutive occasions between 1954-55. They had also developed new elements, such as overhead Lasso lifts, throw jumps, and twist lifts. Nevertheless, the overhead lifts were hugely controversial, with many European judges arguing that they were not permitted by the rules (an argument which was not ultimately resolved until 1959, with a change in the rules). However, during their free skate at the Olympics, Defoe and Bowden had a problem on a lift which caused them to finish after their music had finished. The judges split 6-3 in favour of Sissy Schwarz & Kurt Oppelt, who thereby took the Olympic title.


    Here are the videos for the medal winning performances:-

    MEN'S

    Gold: Hayes Alan Jenkins (USA)

    Free Skate + Interview, Free Skate (Skater in Mid-Coloured Jacket), Free Skate, Holiday on Ice - 1956, Medal Ceremony - 1956 World Championships

    Silver: Ronald Robertson (USA)

    Free Skate (Skater in White Jacket), Free Skate - 1956 World Championships

    Bronze: David Jenkins (USA)

    Free Skate (Skater in Black Jacket), Free Skate


    LADIES

    Gold: Tenley Albright (USA)

    Free Skate, 1956 Olympics Footage, Free Skate - 1956 World Championships, Free Skate - 1956 U.S. Nationals

    Silver: Carol Heiss (USA)

    1956 Olympics Clip + 2003 Interview on Career, 1956 Olympics Footage, Free Skate - 1956 World Championships, Medal Ceremony - 1956 World Championships

    Bronze: Ingrid Wendl (Austria)

    No 1956 Olympics Video, but features in this: 1956 World Championships Medal Ceremony

    4th: Yvonne Sugden (Great Britain)

    No 1956 Olympics Video, but features in these: 1952 London Ice Gala - Part 1, 1952 London Ice Gala - Part 2


    PAIRS

    Gold: Sissy Schwarz & Kurt Oppelt (Austria)

    Free Skate, Free Skate - 1956 World Championships, Medal Ceremony - 1956 World Championships

    Silver: Frances Dafoe & Norris Bowden (Canada)

    Free Skate

    Bronze: Marianna Nagy & László Nagy (Hungary)

    Free Skate

    5th: Carole Ormaca & Robin Greiner (USA)

    Free Skate

    7th: Lucille Ash & Sully Kothman (USA)

    Free Skate
    Last edited by Maofan7; 02-05-2013 at 09:19 PM.

  2. #2

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    Thank you for finding all this great old footage!
    Keeper of Nathalie Pechelat's bitchface.

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    One additional fact is that the Soviet Union made its winter Olympic debut at the 1956 Olympics, and they ended up topping the medal table with 7 gold medals (16 medals in total). However, they didn't enter any competitors into the figure skating events. Instead, they did that for the first time at the 1960 Olympics when they entered 2 pairs, Nina Zhuk & Stanislav Zhuk, who finished 6th, and the Protopopovs, who finished 9th.

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    Great footage. Thanks for posting this.

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    We should especially thank floskate for sharing many of these rare examples from his collection.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skatesindreams View Post
    We should especially thank floskate for sharing many of these rare examples from his collection.
    Indeed, Floskate has put an enormous amount of amazing historical material on YouTube. As I have said many times in previous Retrospectives, we owe Floskate much thanks

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    Not anything to do with the competition but the best part about my finding all this film from 1956, (one of the best eBay purchases EVER!!!!) is that I came into contact with many of the skaters featured here and two of those were Lucille Ash and Carole Ormaca. They were room mates in Cortina and very good friends who sadly lost contact after they retired from competition. As a result of posting these videos, I was able to put them back in contact with each other and they were reunited after over 50 years at the World Skating Museum in 2010. Glad people are still enjoying the footage. It's so interesting and the Cortina footage really is beautiful in its vivid colour

    ETA: Thank you skatesindreams

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maofan7 View Post
    Retrospective takes a look back at the 1956 Olympics

    The key facts in relation to these Olympics are:-

    [LIST][*]American figure skaters dominated the singles events at these Olympics, winning 5 of the 6 medals (Ingrid Wendl of Austria winning the bronze medal in the ladies competition)

    [*]Hayes Alan Jenkins wins the Olympic title. He had finished 4th at the 1952 Olympics (won by Dick Button). In the lead up to the 1956 Olympics, he had won the world title on 3 consecutive occasions between 1953-55, and he retained his world title 2 weeks after the Olympics to win it for a 4th consecutive time. He then retired to pursue a legal career. He later married 1960 Olympic champion, Carol Heiss. Between 1953 and his retirement in 1956, he remained unbeaten. A good free skater, his main strength was in school figures, where he would build up huge leads. He would then look to defend that lead with often conservative free skating performances.

    [*]Hayes Alan Jenkins main rival was Ronnie Robertson. Robertson was the greatest free skater of his era. A renowned showman, he was known as "the king of spin" and "the blur" due to the quality and speed of his spins. Some believe that he was the fastest spinner in figure skating history, with NASA scientists once estimating that he could spin at 240 revolutions a minute (which translates to over 100mph)! His jumps were just as good as well, and he became the first skater to land a triple salchow in competition at the 1955 World Championships. Although Hayes Alan Jenkins remained undefeated between 1953 and his retirement in 1956, he was involved in some titanic battles with Robertson. Robertson would normally win the free skating section, but the huge leads Jenkins would build up in the compulsories (which made up 60% of the score) meant that Jenkins always won. In fact, Robertson only ever lost the free skate to Jenkins once - at the 1956 U.S. Nationals. Nevertheless, in the Olympic competition itself, Robertson's free program was so good, that he almost succeeded in eroding Jenkins enormous lead from the compulsories, to take the title. In fact, it was so close, that it took the judges 2 hours to calculate that Jenkins had won by just 7 tenths of a point. Robertson later said of the loss: ''That cost me $1 million'' - what he believed he could of made from ice show contracts had he won the gold. Instead, after retiring at the end of the 1955/56 season, he signed a 2 year contract for $100,000 with Ice Capades. Sadly, Robertson passed away in 2000 at the age of just 62 from complications from pneumonia

    [*]In terms of Robertsons retirement without a world or Olympic title, the results were at the time, and remain, controversial. Robertson's amateur career ended with him being accused of claiming excessive expanses during a European tour. Consequently, he was almost disqualified from Nationals. Robertson's father, Albert, stated: "This thing reeks of politics....I have so much stuff, I could blow the lid off....This is ridiculous....If Ronnie is to be charged, at least he should be given the full story and the full facts....They fix it, they rig it so that Ronnie cannot beat the Jenkins figures in his free skating." Furthermore, at the time, Robertson was involved in a relationships with the actor, Tab Hunter (before embarking on a career in acting, Hunter was actually a figure skater who competed in both singles and pairs). In fact, Hunter actually helped finance Robertson's amateur career. In his autobiography, Hunter recounts: "Years later, [I was] told…[that] there were plenty of whispers behind our backs about me and Ronnie….[and that]… a well-connected person….said, 'Ronnie Robertson didn't have a chance at the Worlds as long as he was with Tab Hunter'".
    Here are some more details about the scoring controversy at the 1956 Olympics. This is from Ronnie Robertson's obituary in the New York Times:

    In the mid-1950's, American men's figure-skating was dominated by Hayes Alan Jenkins, Robertson and Jenkins's younger brother, David. In 1956, they finished 1-2-3 in the Olympics, world championships and United States championships.

    Hayes Alan Jenkins was dominant in the now-defunct school figures, or compulsory segments, which involved the tracing of circles. Robertson was the consummate showman, excelling in the freestyle. Because the compulsories counted for 60 percent of the total score, the math worked against Robertson.

    Robertson came excruciatingly close to the Olympic gold medal at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. The judges calculated with slide rules for two hours before determining that the complicated scoring had given Hayes Alan Jenkins seven-tenths of a point more than Robertson.

    Skating on a hard, bumpy outdoor rink in subzero temperatures, Robertson won the freestyle with extraordinary leaps and spins, but Jenkins had a large enough margin in the compulsories to take first place.

    When he was edged out for the Olympic title, Robertson had remarked, ''That cost me $1 million,'' suggesting he could have signed a hugely lucrative ice-show contract if he had won the gold medal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by floskate View Post
    Not anything to do with the competition but the best part about my finding all this film from 1956, (one of the best eBay purchases EVER!!!!) is that I came into contact with many of the skaters featured here and two of those were Lucille Ash and Carole Ormaca. They were room mates in Cortina and very good friends who sadly lost contact after they retired from competition. As a result of posting these videos, I was able to put them back in contact with each other and they were reunited after over 50 years at the World Skating Museum in 2010. Glad people are still enjoying the footage. It's so interesting and the Cortina footage really is beautiful in its vivid colour

    ETA: Thank you skatesindreams
    What an absolutely fantastic story. Thanks for sharing.

    Quote Originally Posted by skatesindreams View Post
    Here are some more details about the scoring controversy at the 1956 Olympics. This is from Ronnie Robertson's obituary in the New York Times:
    Many thanks for posting the article and the info.

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    Why were us nats held after olympics and WC in 56? Does not make sense

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    Quote Originally Posted by Judge Dred View Post
    Why were us nats held after olympics and WC in 56? Does not make sense
    It doesn't make sense, but it was this way until Maribel Owen (big sister of Laurence Owen) brought it up for the USFA. She thought it was a much better idea to hold nationals earlier in the season, before the big championships as of today, and the USFA actually listened to her (even tough she was still a college girl) and it was changed. I don't remember the year. 1960?

    And thank you Maofan and Floskate, for the amazing effort you put in to spread our figure skating legacy!

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    One tidbit from those games was that Carol Heiss was extremely upset over losing to Tenley, to the point where she refused to pose for pictures with Tenley (supposedly on the advice of her mother and coach). The article notes that the FS team leader finally persuaded her to pose with Tenley. I recall reading somewhere that USFS almost threatened to send her home early because of her behavior. http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2...20-%200100.pdf

    Before anyone thinks I'm being catty, apparently Carol's main source of upset was that her mother was very ill with cancer at the time, and she really wanted to win for her mother. Her mom lived to see Carol defeat Tenley for the gold at Worlds that year but died a few months later, making Carol promise to go for the gold at the next Olympics (which, she of course, did). Having met Carol Heiss, she is nothing but lovely and gracious, I can imagine her emotions at the time. Interesting to know how deep the rivalries could be among US Ladies even before Tonya and Nancy!
    "Once you've skated together long enough, and you're really good friends, you can close your eyes, put your hand out and she's right there." Joe Dolkiewicz, 2011 US Novice Pairs Bronze Medalist

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    Quote Originally Posted by SmallFairy View Post
    It doesn't make sense, but it was this way until Maribel Owen (big sister of Laurence Owen) brought it up for the USFA. She thought it was a much better idea to hold nationals earlier in the season, before the big championships as of today, and the USFA actually listened to her (even tough she was still a college girl) and it was changed. I don't remember the year. 1960?
    I guess before the change, they didn't use Nats as a basis for selection for the WC and it was just another competition. Wonder what the selection criteria was? Probably a combination of rankings and recent form in recent competitions.

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    Last edited by Maofan7; 02-07-2013 at 11:37 PM.

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    This is another video featuring the pairs medalists, Sissy Schwarz & Kurt Oppelt (Gold), Frances Dafoe & Norris Bowden (Silver), and Marianna Nagy & László Nagy (Bronze)

    Tenley Albright & Hayes Alan Jenkins Winning 1956 U.S. Nationals - their last ever competition before retiring

    Tenley Albright - Caesars Tribute Interview

    Tenley Albright was U.S. National champion on 5 consecutive occasions between 1952-56. Here are videos of her winning performances from 1953 and 1954:-

    Tenley Albright - 1953 U.S. Nationals

    Tenley Albright - 1954 U.S. Nationals
    Last edited by Maofan7; 02-08-2013 at 01:41 AM.

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    An extended interview with Tenley Albright MD:
    http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/alb0int-1

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    One fact I forgot to mention in the initial post is that in terms of the pairs competition, the result was so close that Sissy Schwarz & Kurt Oppelt won the title by the vote of just 1 judge, after the total points ended up being equal to those of Dafoe & Bowden.

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    Nice pic, Maofan7!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yazmeen View Post
    One tidbit from those games was that Carol Heiss was extremely upset over losing to Tenley, to the point where she refused to pose for pictures with Tenley (supposedly on the advice of her mother and coach). The article notes that the FS team leader finally persuaded her to pose with Tenley. I recall reading somewhere that USFS almost threatened to send her home early because of her behavior. http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2...20-%200100.pdf

    Before anyone thinks I'm being catty, apparently Carol's main source of upset was that her mother was very ill with cancer at the time, and she really wanted to win for her mother. Her mom lived to see Carol defeat Tenley for the gold at Worlds that year but died a few months later, making Carol promise to go for the gold at the next Olympics (which, she of course, did). Having met Carol Heiss, she is nothing but lovely and gracious, I can imagine her emotions at the time. Interesting to know how deep the rivalries could be among US Ladies even before Tonya and Nancy!
    This is fabulous. I want Jenny Kirk and Dave Lease to have Carol and Tenley on Skating Lessons to discuss their rivalry almost 60 years later.

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