The Story of Hayes Jenkins’ Olympic Triumph
By Ben Nye (Arkansas)
Ray Ewry isn’t the only Olympic champion to grace the roles of the Legion of Honor. The 1956 Winter Olympics held in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy saw Hayes Jenkins (Northwestern) – a figure skater – win a gold medal in the men’s singles competition. Jenkins’ triumph was the result of many years of hard training and international competition and to date is the only Olympic medal won by a Sigma Nu at a Winter Olympics.
Hayes Jenkins was known for his ability to blend the athleticism of American skaters with the artistry of European skaters. Building off the innovations brought by fellow American Olympian Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins helped forge the identity of international figure skating and rode it to Olympic glory.
Hayes Jenkins was born in Akron, Ohio, and began skating at age nine. He began competing at the national level from a young age and claimed the Midwestern Novice title in 1946 at the age of 13. He won a series of adolescent competitions over the next several years including the Midwestern Junior Championship, Midwestern Senior Championship, and the National Junior Championship.
In the fall of 1951, Jenkins enrolled at Northwestern University and joined the Gamma Beta Chapter of Sigma Nu. Jenkins had a tough road as a freshman at Northwestern University having to travel the 12-mile distance between Evanston and Chicago daily to make a two-hour training routine. This required Jenkins to be up by 4 a.m. every day. Some of his chapter brothers were actually unaware that he was a figure skater – they weren’t awake before he returned to Evanston.
“I can tell you that I didn’t get out of any of my fraternity duties,” Jenkins said during a recent phone call just a few days before the Winter Games in Sochi. The extra responsibilities were part of it for Jenkins. Dedicated to his training, Jenkins also made time for the fraternity and for completing his school work. “I was active and very much enjoyed the fraternity.”
Shortly after Jenkins was initiated in January of 1952, he and his brother David left the Great Lakes region and took up residence in Colorado Springs, Co. The Hayes brothers were offered a chance to skate for the prestigious Broadmoor Skating Club that has since sponsored other Olympic figure skaters such as Peggy Fleming and Todd Eldredge. The opportunity proved to be too good to pass up. “I hated to leave but I felt like I couldn’t become a champion with the training conditions that I had,” he says. “I would have stayed there if it hadn’t been for this desire to see what I could do in skating.”
While in Colorado Springs, Hayes enrolled at Colorado College while his younger brother David finished high school. Colorado College proved to be a supportive environment for Jenkins, as they allowed him time off to pursue international competition and rigorous training. Unfortunately, Hayes was unable to continue his involvement with Sigma Nu as Colorado College did not have a chapter.
The new training routines propelled Hayes and brother David toward excellence in international competition. At the 1952 Olympic Games held in Oslo, Norway, Hayes – – only 19 at the time – – placed fourth in the men’s singles competition, with Dick Button taking the gold medal. Button stepped away from international competition shortly after his Olympic victory, paving the way for the Jenkins brothers’ future success.
The mid-1950s marked the high point of Hayes Jenkins’ skating career as he won the World Figure Skating Championships for four consecutive years in 1953-1956. Not to be outdone by his older brother, David was close behind Hayes. At the 1955 World Championships, Hayes finished first in the standings but was only two places ahead of his brother who came in third.
The Jenkins’ brothers run of dominance in international competition was capped with an invitation to join the 1956 United States Winter Olympics Team that was to compete in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Of the three spots on the U.S. Olympic Team for men’s figure skaters, the Jenkins brothers claimed two.
The seventh Winter Olympiad included a hotly contested men’s figure skating competition between Hayes, David, and fellow American and teammate Ronnie Robertson. The final results were Hayes Jenkins first, teammate Robbie Robertson second, and David Jenkins third. It was an American sweep of men’s figure skating, the second in Olympic history and the only since. Hayes Jenkins had edged Robertson by less than a point to take the gold medal.
Looking back, Jenkins recalls feeling elated, but also relieved. “There was a pressure that the Olympics had that was unlike any other pressure I experienced as a competitor,” he says. Having won three world championships by 1956, Jenkins felt pressured to prove that his victories weren’t a fluke. “By winning, I felt I hadn’t disappointed myself and the people who had supported me.”
“Winning the Olympic gold medal is so different than the other competitions that I participated in,” Jenkins says. The victory served as a validation of his years of training and international success. “It’s hard to put into words, but when you’re lucky enough to win it’s an indescribable feeling.”
Competing alongside Hayes and David Jenkins for team USA was the young and talented figure skater Carol Heiss. Heiss, a New York City native, had been competing at the international level since 1953. Heiss placed second at the 1956 Olympics, taking the silver medal behind Tenley Albright – – the first American woman to win a gold medal in figure skating. Heiss and Jenkins began a friendship at the 1956 Olympics that would grow over the next four years culminating in their engagement in 1960.
Hayes Jenkins retired from the international competition not long after his Olympic victory. Jenkins, who had been an excellent student (he graduated Phi Beta Kappa at Colorado College), enrolled at Harvard Law School in 1956. He continued to skate for ice shows during the summers between law classes to earn extra money to pay for his education. Meanwhile, David Jenkins and Carol Heiss continued to compete at the international level to great success.
The 1960 Winter Olympics held in Squaw Valley, Calif., proved to be eventful for the Jenkins brothers and Carol Heiss. David Jenkins and Carol Heiss, who had both won multiple world championships prior to the Olympics, both won gold medals. Hayes, who was at the games as a spectator, announced his engagement with Carol Heiss while in attendance.
Hayes Jenkins and Carol Heiss were married in May, 1960, at the historic St. Thomas Episcopal Church on 5th Avenue in New York. Carol followed her new husband’s example and soon retired from professional figure skating. Using her fame as an Olympic champion, Carol Heiss accepted an acting role in a movie – Snow White and the Three Stooges – to help her younger brother pay for his college.
The newlywed couple returned to Akron, Ohio, and Hayes began a private law practice. Both were quite content to settle into domestic routines and raise their three children. After five years, Hayes would accept a position with Goodyear in legal affairs – – the company he retired with.
Hayes and Carol would continue their involvement with U.S. figure skating for many years, although they were no longer competitors themselves. The Jenkins were judges for the World Professional Figure Skating Championships, an event held annually in Landover, Maryland, and Hayes would serve on the board for the Figure Skating Hall of Fame and Museum. When their youngest daughter was in junior high, Carol Heiss began to use her experience in international completion to go into coaching; several of her pupils would become Olympians. It was Carol’s coaching that helped Tonia Kwiatkowski, Jenni Meno, Lisa Ervin, Timothy Goebel, and others rise to international rankings.
In 1998, following Hayes Jenkins’ retirement from Goodyear as the assistant general counsel, the pair moved to Westlake, Ohio, to be closer to Carol’s coaching venue, the Lakewood Winterhurst Rink.
Hayes, his wife Carol, and brother David have been recognized around the country with accolades for their contributions to figure skating and Olympic success. Hayes Jenkins was inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, while all three were inaugural members of the Figure Skating Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Co.
“In order to stay in good with the brothers at [Sigma Nu], I’m happy to say I’m a Sigma Nu.”
Hayes Jenkins and Carol Heiss are still involved with U.S. figure skating. Most recently, the pair participated in American Legends of the Ice which aired on NBC in early February 2014.
Hayes Jenkins’ legacy as an Olympic champion is solidified. There can be no doubt that his story is one of excellence at the highest level of athletic achievement. Hayes, his brother David, and wife Carol all have climbed to the top of their sport and represent some of the sport’s finest alumni.
Hayes Jenkins is an initiate that Sigma Nu can be proud of. Despite Jenkins’ short time at the Gamma Beta Chapter, that pride is reciprocated; then and now. “It was a very fine group of men,” said Jenkins thinking about his time at Northwestern.
A clipping in The Delta of 1952 corroborates Jenkins’ sentiments. When interviewed in 1952 at a radio station in Indianapolis, Hayes Jenkins gave a shot out to his chapter brothers saying, “In order to stay in good with the brothers at [Sigma Nu], I’m happy to say I’m a Sigma Nu.”