Memory Games

While an Olympic competition sometimes takes just minutes, the afterglow can last a lifetime.
July 27, 2008
Interviews by Christina Breda Antoniades | 2008 Photos by Keith Barraclough | Audio by Whitney Shefte | Q&A, Monday

Charles Jenkins, 74

Sykesville, Md.
Gold medalist, 400 meters and 4x400-meter track relay, 1956 (Melbourne, Australia).


IN 1956, PEOPLE WERE PICKING ME TO GET FOURTH PLACE. But I was very firm that I could win. I was ready. I was even walking fast to get to the start of the race. In that moment, you just go. And I'm so thankful for winning. It follows you through your life. You don't have to say anything -- it just comes up.

After the Olympics, I was asked to go on a goodwill tour to represent the United States, to conduct clinics and coach national teams. We went to 17 countries in Asia. It was supposed to be six months, but I ended up staying [on the job] three years. When I returned to the United States, the Peace Corps was just getting started, so I applied. Having been to the Olympics was a hidden positive.

[At home,] I really downplayed it. I didn't force any of my children to participate in track. When my son, Chip, was about 8, I went to visit a friend of mine who was an Olympian. That person had plaques and medals and trophies in his apartment, many more than I had. I looked at them and thought, "It's like a museum." I went home and took the few that I had out of the front room and threw them in a closet. I didn't want Chip to have to compete against that.

When people would ask him, "Are you going to run track like your dad?" I'd say [to them], "Don't do that." But in seventh grade, he came home one day and said, "Dad, I won a race!" He ran more and got more enthusiastic. By the time he got to Georgetown Prep, the coach said to me, "I think we've got him." And I said, "I think so, too."

In 1982, I went to coach at Villanova. People say fathers are not supposed to coach their sons -- it never works out. But I twisted Chip's arm to go there, and it worked extremely well. He made the Olympic team. I felt very, very good about that. He didn't listen to me when it came to cleaning his room, but when it came to running, he listened.

Fast Forward

Chip Jenkins was a reserve on the 1992 Olympic 4x400 relay team, which won a gold medal. Charles Jenkins works at the Social Security Administration doing outreach to educate the community about benefits. He says he still gets occasional letters from autograph seekers.

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PHOTOS: Current Photography by Keith Barraclough, 1956 Photograph from Associated Press; AUDIO: Whitney Shefte WEB EDITOR: Amanda McGrath - washingtonpost.com

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