Olympic Games bond father-son track champions
Amy Rosewater, TeamUSA.org
June 17, 2011
There are many fathers who get to share their passion for sports with their sons. But there are not many dads who earned an Olympic gold medal in the same event as their son.
In fact, it is believed that in the United States there is only one such father-son duo: Charles and Chip Jenkins.
Charles competed in the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games and won two gold medals — one in the 400 and the other in the 4 x 400 relay. Thirty-six years later, Chip went to Barcelona and came home with an Olympic gold medal in the 4 x 400.
“I was delighted when he did that,’’ Charles said with a chuckle. “He was following the old man.
“I was very happy for a variety of reasons. A lot of people don’t even make the team or medal at all. So for him to win a gold medal in the same event I did is very special.’’
Though neither father nor son are involved in the competitive track world these days — Dr. Charles Jenkins is a public affairs specialist for the United States Social Security Administration and Chip is an attorney specializing in trademarks and intellectual property — their Olympic bond will never break. The two see each other frequently, as Charles lives in Sykesville, Md., and Chip lives in Washington, D.C. The two plan on getting together this Sunday for Father’s Day, perhaps for dinner.
And the two share a mutual admiration.
Not that they don’t have their competitive moments.
“I go fishing with Chip in Connecticut and the last couple of years I’ve caught the largest fish,’’ Charles said. “Once he caught the largest fish and a friend of ours convinced us to stay another half hour and during that half hour, I caught a bigger fish. We’re so competitive that way.’’
You don’t get to become an Olympic champion without those competitive juices.
Charles never will forget how difficult the road was toward becoming an Olympic champion back in 1956. At that time (as is the case now), the United States had one of the most formidable teams, if not the most, in the world. So making the team provided intense competition.
The favorite was Lou Jones (pictured here, behind Jenkins), who won the 400-meter event in the 1955 Pan-American Games in world-record time (45.4 seconds). At the U.S. Olympic Trials, Jones broke his own record with a 45.2. Jenkins, meanwhile, was predicted by the media to place fourth.
“It really didn’t matter,’’ Jenkins said now of those predictions. “I just felt that I could win, and my attitude was just to ignore it.’’
With all eyes on Jones, Jenkins laid low out of the spotlight. He leaned heavily on American teammate and 1952 Olympic gold medalist in the 200, Andy Stanfield. The two were roommates in Melbourne, and Jenkins said he followed Stanfield’s advice. Stanfield helped him in workouts and also persuaded him to live a little away from the track as well. They danced in the Olympic Village and made friends with athletes from other countries.
Those friendships became vitally important for Jenkins in his pursuit of gold. Before Jenkins headed to Melbourne, he was jogging in Boston when he noticed a group of French athletes. They exchanged information, and one of those athletes wound up making the French team.
At the Olympic Games, the top-three athletes in each heat advanced to the next round. Before the semifinals, this French athlete, named Jean-Paul Martin DuGard, approached Jenkins.
“He said, ‘I have something very important to tell you,’’ Jenkins recalled. “In your heat, almost all of you can make the final, so you are going to have to run your best time if you are going to make the final.’’
The advice changed Jenkins’ strategy and he wound up winning that heat in 46.1 seconds. The fourth-fastest finisher clocked in at 46.2. In the next heat, Lou Jones won in 47 seconds.
“Conceivably, I could have been left out of the final,’’ Jenkins said. “I’ll never forget that.’’
In the final, Jones had garnered most of the American support, but Jenkins had some U.S. fans as well as an international fan base. Jenkins wound up winning, and Jones finished a disappointing fifth. To this day, Jenkins keeps in touch with his French friend.
Following those Games, Jenkins went on to coach men’s and women’s track at Villanova and he also had a diverse governmental career. He went on a goodwill tour as a coach working in Bangkok; he worked on the administrative staff for the Peace Corps in Indonesia, and he received an Ed.D (Doctor of Education) from the University of Massachusetts in 1978. A year later, he received an honorary Doctorate of Public Administration from Villanova.
Although he would have liked to have traveled to many subsequent other Olympic Games, his jet-setting career prevented him from doing so. He did, however, make it to the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games and hopes to travel to London next summer.
He did not travel to Barcelona, although he regrets that decision now. He did, however, tune into the Games and saw the American team, with Chip Jenkins representing the United States, win the 4 x 400 relay. Chip raced in the preliminaries but not the final.
Chip Jenkins grew up in Silver Spring, Md., and gravitated to track early, partly because of his family history and partly because he could run faster than almost all of the neighborhood kids.
Growing up as the son of a two-time gold medalist had its advantages. Chip said he often would take out his dad’s medals and show them off to friends.
“But the novelty wore off fast,’’ he said.
Chip had to make a name for himself. And he did that fast, too. He was a star track athlete in high school. He had a high school coach but when he graduated, he chose to go to Villanova and be coached by his father.
Although folks knew him as “Charlie Jenkins’ son,’’ Chip said it wasn’t hard to live in his father’s shadow.
“Things were pretty equal,’’ he said. “Most people do the same workouts and there are not a lot of secrets. The only difference is in the runner’s desire.’’
As a freshman, Chip was not among the superstars on the Villanova team.
“I told another coach that I thought Chip was going to be really good by his sophomore year and he told me later that he laughed when I said that. But I tell you, that coach was very happy when Chip was a senior and was done competing.’’
Charles said his son was “very receptive’’ to his coaching. Chip recalled one meet at the Meadowlands where his dad’s advice really came through for him.
“I had been losing races and from a technical standpoint, my dad told me to do something with my arms even when I was tired at the end of the race, and I actually listened to him,’’ Chip said with a laugh. “I beat (Olympic gold medalist) Antonio McKay that day and I beat him the next day.
“I was always strong enough but I didn’t care as much about technique,’’ Chip added. “Sometimes, you have to use your brains, too.’’
Chip had the right combination of brains and brawn at the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials, which were held in Louisiana. Those Trials were difficult for many of the athletes, especially those who competed in the 400 because of the sideshow involving Butch Reynolds (at the time, the world-record holder in the event) and a doping scandal. The Trials were difficult for Chip as well because he had taken about 18 months off from running and started law school.
Chip went to Barcelona more like a businessman than an athlete. Although he went to the Opening Ceremony, he wasn’t in Barcelona for the pomp and circumstance of the Games. He was there for one reason: to win a medal.
“It was all business,’’ said Chip, who didn’t catch any other athletic events at the Games but did manage to check out some of Spain’s beaches. “I was there to win, and if we didn’t win, something went terribly wrong. I always felt that as a 400 runner in America, you know you’re among the best. I don’t know why and I’m not going to say it’s easy for an American to win the 400 but it just seems to be that way.’’
The United States men have won 15 of the Olympic 4 x 400 titles, dating back to the first time the relay was held in the Games in 1912. The U.S. men have won the last five Olympic relays.
When Charles was on the winning relay in 1956 up until Chip raced in 1992, the United States had won all but two Olympic titles (Kenya won in 1972 and the Soviet Union won in 1980 when the United States boycotted the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games). American men have swept the 400-meter event in the last two Olympic Games in Athens and Beijing (Jeremy Wariner won the gold in Athens and LaShawn Merritt was the 2008 gold medalist).
Chip clearly remembers his race in Barcelona when he trailed a Cuban runner by five yards and made a gutsy inside pass. When he passed the baton to his teammate, the United States had a five-yard lead. Chip thought he hadn’t run hard enough.
“Usually, we’d have a 20-yard lead,’’ he said. “I thought, ‘What went wrong?’ Then I realized, ‘Oh yeah, this is the Olympics. It’s not easy.’ ’’
An ocean away, Charles beamed with pride.
Today, as Father’s Day approaches, he’s even more proud of his son. Chip is not only an Olympic gold medalist, but he’s an accomplished attorney — just like his mother. Issie Jenkins is retired now but worked as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In addition to Chip, Charles and Issie are proud parents to daughters Theameta and Robyne.
“My wife and I are very, very proud of Chip, but we are very, very proud of all three of our kids. I am very thankful for my Olympic experience and for Chip’s, but there are other things in life after running, and all three of my children have done other very exciting things.’’