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If you like Tenley Albright's story, you might also like:
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Susan Butcher,
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Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Tenley Albright in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Amazing Olympic Games

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Tenley Albright
Tenley Albright
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Tenley Albright Interview (page: 2 / 5)

Olympic Gold Medal Figure Skater

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  Tenley Albright

Tenley Albright Interview Photo
One of your skating coaches, Maribel Vinson Owen, said that twhen you were starting out, you were very much like all the other little girls skating in Boston. What happened inside you that set you apart from the crowd, so to speak?

Tenley Albright: One of the common threads that comes through when people get together for the American Academy of Achievement is: creativity, dare to be different, be true to yourself, don't be so concerned with what other people think, be more concerned with what you think yourself, and what you dare to do. I think I am still like the other little girls who are skating, because I just got a pair of roller blades myself, the night before last, and I felt like a beginner. I was a beginner. And all those same feelings of being a beginner in figure skating came right back. It's the excitement of trying something, and having some little tiny success, and sort of knowing that you can do something, I think, that spurs you on.

Creativity is a big part of it for me. I loved the music. In skating, you respond to the music, you forget yourself. When you are comfortable in your medium, you have a way of expressing your feelings. Then you are free to do your own choreography, and make up things. I was always kind of teased for some of the silly things I'd make up in skating, but that was what I really enjoyed: making up new jumps, new spins, making up a program. I even skated to "Barney the Bashful Bullfrog."

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Tenley Albright Interview Photo
That was a challenge. I remember saying to my grandmother, "I want to skate to this music." And she said, "What kind of a costume are you going to use for that?" Whatever you like to do, go ahead and do it. Try it the hardest you can and the best you can, even if it's seeing how big a mud puddle you can jump over. We all know that's fun. And when you are juggling things, and it works, it makes you want to do it more. That's the fun of it. No matter how hard things are, how much work, how tough a competition, how nervous you may be, I recommend not using the word "nervous." because if you say you are nervous, you are. You have to think of yourself as being like a race horse. If a race horse weren't keyed up for the event, the gates would open and nothing would happen. So it's important to be keyed up for something in order to do your best. Whatever it is, go ahead and do it. Don't let anybody tell you it's not important. You will find that whatever you do the rest of your life will relate to some of those things you did, no matter how young you are, or how much of a beginner you are.

Take us back to a certain day when you invented a new jump or a new spin or a new move, and tell us what that was, how it happened, and what you felt. Can you recall a certain thing you did?

Tenley Albright: It was about four o'clock in the morning. I had discovered that there were two rinks in Boston where, if they hadn't sold the ice for hockey for the next morning, if I called after ten o'clock at night, they'd let me use the ice and have it all to myself until the hockey game or hockey practice started. So I did that one morning. I carried my own phonograph and my skates, and it was snowing, and I unlocked the back door of the rink. But just before I did, actually, my feet slipped out from under me, flew up in the air. I fell down, all my things around me, burst out laughing and realized there wasn't a soul around. It was very, very quiet. But I had the ice all to myself that morning. I had been shown where to put the lights on. I could play the music as loud as I wanted, as many times as I wanted.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Tenley Albright Interview Photo
And I was then working on a number that was to be for an amateur ice show that came up very soon, and it was a witch number. I decided that it would be fun to do some number where there was something big and flowing like a witch's cape, and I skated to Berlioz, and the chimes were ringing. And I decided I would have a cauldron of dry ice and be mixing my brew. And I thought, well, what moves can I do? And gradually, I sort of felt perfectly free, nobody watching, could do whatever I wanted, could go slamming across the ice on my rear end, or trip over my own feet or anything. And I kept on doing some sort of swirling, swirly things. And I thought I wanted to do something that would take me up in the air as far as I could go, and it would be rather extreme.

So I took off on a forward edge, jumped with my foot wide as far as I could, but then I hadn't decided what to do. How do I land? While I was in the air I thought, "I need to land as low as I can, but not fall." So I landed on two feet, then tried another few times, then finally decided that I would combine what we call a drag, which is quite an easy thing, which you may know how to do. It's going on one foot bent way down, with your other foot dragging on the ice behind you. So I started out the way you do an axel, or an open axle, went as high as I could, and then landed as low as I could in the drag. I called it a witch jump. I used it in that program and had sort of fun with that. That's how the little moves get started. There's another one I call my grass skirt step. And that's simply a lot of very fast brackets, very quickly in a row. The feet move quickly, the upper body stays still, and you sort of twist in the middle.

Tenley Albright Interview Photo
When you talk about skating, you talk about the creativity and the free-flowing quality of it. Yet, you were really very dedicated and disciplined in mastering the compulsory figures, and there is something about them that is not creative, and is not fun. What about these other components of the tests that you have to get through?

Tenley Albright: I like to think that I was good in the compulsory figures. That wasn't the part I enjoyed. The jumps, the spins, the dance steps, the choreography and especially that feeling trying to fly, was what I really liked, and what I still like about skating. The compulsory figures... well, there's the word: compulsory. We had to do them. If you didn't qualify or come out really high on the compulsory figures, you didn't have a chance. When the free skating came, you'd be marked too low, so that you wouldn't have a chance in the free skating. But there is a kind of fascination with those school figures. You are testing yourself. You're seeing how close you can come, whether you can, in your mind's eye, draw a pattern on a totally clean, unmarked piece of ice.

Sometimes, when we skated outdoors in competitions in Europe, it would be on ice outdoors that might have snow on it, or sun on part of it, shadow on the other part, and that was really a challenge. You had to be sure that your body positions were right, because you can't make a circle if you can't see it, if you are not feeling it. So there was a fascination and a challenge to that. It is a little bit like the barre exercises in ballet.

You seem to have found just the right psychological approach to everything that you needed to do. You made it look so easy. You make it sound easy. You seem to have found, within yourself, just what was needed. And it wasn't just to be creative, and it wasn't just to skate. You did what was necessary to become recognized as the best woman skater on the planet.

Tenley Albright Interview Photo
Tenley Albright: I didn't work on skating to be the best woman skater on the planet. What appeals to all of us is to do something that is a challenge. I don't think we'd try if we knew it was easy. If you find something that piques your interest, or that you want to try, you've already started it.

Why we accept a challenge, I'm not sure. Maybe it's part of that feeling of obligation to do what you can, to take part, to have compassion for feelings of other people, whether it's through expressing your own feelings, or whether it's caring for them as patients. It's being involved, it's testing yourself. I think we need to test ourselves.

If you ever watch a little child, maybe three years old, they love to climb on things, walk on stone walls, test their balance. I still like to do that. It's within us. I think we tend to teach it out of ourselves. I've been lucky because I've had a chance to do it in several different areas. But you have to remember that girls were not asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Now, when I meet these wonderful students who have qualified to be part of the American Academy of Achievement, it's astonishing to see what so many of them have already accomplished, but also how clearly they know what areas they want to be in. There are a lot more opportunities for young women now, but they also have to make choices, and they are almost required to stick with them in a way. We had sort of a freedom. Yes, we were pioneering in a sense. But now, young women here are asked, "What are you going to do?" and that's a different type of challenge. And they are certainly accepting it and doing it. In fact, right now, there are a number of the students who were chosen to take part as high school students in the American Academy of Achievement who have now come back and are honorees, who are explaining to this year's students what they have done since that time, and that's really exciting to see.

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