- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

Tenley Albright looked positively golden as she whirled through her practice routines. The 1956 Winter Olympics were just two weeks away in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, and the 20-year-old from Newton, Mass., was favored to win the women's figure skating competition after finishing second at the Oslo Games four years earlier.
Suddenly, Albright stumbled over a rut in the ice and felt agonizing pain. She looked down and saw a river of blood. Her left skate had sliced into her right ankle, cutting to the bone.
No more dreams of gold. Surely her competitive career was over after yielding two world championships in addition to the silver medal at the 1952 Oslo Games. Now Albright, a premed student at Radcliffe, could put away her skates and concentrate on medicine.
But maybe not quite yet. Albright had overcome physical ailments before. As an 11-year-old, she contracted a mild strain of polio. Recalled Albright many years later: "I was not completely paralyzed, but I did not have use of my leg, back or neck."
The late '40s were a more dangerous and less enlightened time medically.
"I did get cured and was able to skate," Albright said, "but my parents told me not to be surprised if the other kids refused to play with me, fearing they might catch polio."
When doctors suggested that she use a backyard skating rink to rebuild the muscles, Albright began skating in earnest, turning a hobby into a passion. Junior and national titles followed a few years later, and then Oslo.
Now another crisis, one that threatened to hand the gold at Cortina d'Ampezzo to her U.S. teammate and rival, 16-year-old Carol Heiss. In the days after the injury, Albright's ankle stubbornly refused to heal and severely limited her practice time. Frustrated, she called her father, Hollis, a Boston surgeon, who caught the next available flight to Italy.
"Dad patched me up good," Albright said, "but on the day of the competition, I was worried. My leg was stiff, and my ankle was all taped up."
Before the finals began, Hollis Albright who had guided his daughter's career from the start was pessimistic. "I haven't let her do any jumps yet," he said. "And with all that tape on her ankle, of course, she doesn't have the flexibility she needs."
No problem, not really. After the compulsory exercises, which then represented 60 percent of the final score, Albright had a small lead over Heiss. As the freestyle competition began, Tenley knew she would have go all out and test her bad ankle with difficult spins and jumps.
On her double loop jump, Albright appeared to flinch when she landed but, after a moment's hesitation, resumed her routine. Dressed in a dark rose wool sweater and with flowers in her blond hair, she skated flawlessly. Reported the New York Times the next day: "Tenley was all out, flying into a double toe loop and a cross foot spin. She whirled to the finish, and the spectators let out a long roar."
Albright remembered it this way: "I was skating to 'The Bacarolle' from 'Tales of Hoffman.' Suddenly, the audience began to sing the words, and their voices just thrilled me. Chills were going up and down my spine. I forgot about the injury and just skated."
And how straight to the gold medal with 169.67 points, barely beating Heiss' 168.02. Carol would have to wait four years until the Squaw Valley Games to claim gold for herself. By that time, Albright was practicing medicine.
Later that night, Tenley ascended in triumph to the middle and highest perch on the medal platform. The date was Feb.2, 1956.
"It was a dark, cold night, and there were lights all over the surrounding mountains," she said. "Then they raised the American flag, and I got the biggest surprise. I was waiting for them to play 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' but instead they began to play 'My Country 'Tis of Thee.' I still don't know why they didn't play 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' but it was beautiful."
So was the unconquerable Tenley Albright.


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