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:-
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
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
Gold: Sissy Schwarz & Kurt Oppelt (Austria)
Free Skate, Free Skate - 1956 World Championships, Medal Ceremony - 1956 World Championships
Silver: Frances Dafoe & Norris Bowden (Canada)
Bronze: Marianna Nagy & László Nagy (Hungary)
5th: Carole Ormaca & Robin Greiner (USA)
7th: Lucille Ash & Sully Kothman (USA)