Coached by husband-and-wife team Andree and Pierre Brunet – the Olympic pairs champions of 1928 and 1932 – the USA’s Carol Heiss was a teenage star of the 1950s international figure skating scene, winning silver behind her compatriot Tenley Albright at the 1955 ISU World Championships and repeating the feat at the following year’s Winter Games at Cortina d’Ampezzo.
A month after Cortina 1956, the 16-year-old Heiss got the better of Tenley at the World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkichen, winning gold and prompting her compatriot to call time on her career.
Famed for having become the first female figure skater to land a double axel at the age of only 13, the new world champion received a number of offers to turn professional. She turned them down, however, intent on keeping the promise she had made to her late mother that she would stay amateur and win an Olympic gold medal for her.
In keeping the first part of that pledge, she went on to dominate the world championships, winning five straight titles between 1956 and 1960, a feat only previously achieved by Austria’s Herma Szabo and Norway’s Sonja Henie and one which has never been repeated since.
Heiss arrived in Squaw Valley as the favourite for gold, though her first task at the Games was to take the Olympic oath on behalf of her peers at the Opening Ceremony. She then set about the job of fulfilling her pledge to her mother, taking control of proceedings in the compulsory skate, with the judges placing her a comfortable first ahead of the Netherlands’ Sjoukje Dijkstra and her USA team-mate and room-mate Barbara Ann Roles.
Two days later, sporting a red dress and a sparkling tiara, Heiss skated a graceful free programme to the musical backdrop of Rossini and Tchaikovsky, pulling off a series of pirouettes and jumps to once again earn highest marks from all nine judges and amass a title-winning total of 1490.1 points. Taking silver some distance behind was Dijkstra, with Roles collecting the bronze.
Two weeks later, Heiss won the last of her five world titles in Vancouver, after which she retired and married the 1956 men’s Olympic figure skating champion Hayes Alan Jenkins. After briefly appearing in ice shows and also starring on the silver screen, she focused on raising her family, before returning to the ice rinks in the 1980s, becoming a respected figure skating coach and helping the likes of Japan’s Miki Ando and the USA’s Timothy Goebel reach the top of the sport.