After clinching a gold medal with one of the most polished performances ever seen in Olympic figure skating, Carol Heiss fought through reporters to reach a dark, angular man who stood at the edge of the rink, a cigar clenched in his teeth. He was French-born Pierre Brunet, skating coach for the past 14 of Carol's 20 years. Brunet put his hand on her shoulder (above), and together they watched the other skaters vainly trying to cut down Carol's commanding lead. Then it was over, and Carol was the Olympic champion, as the perceptive Monsieur Brunet had always known she would be.
Through most of her life, he has alternately coddled her and driven her, both on and off the ice. "Pierre babies me when he knows I'm under a strain," said Carol. "Every night he cleans and polishes my boots and sharpens my skate blades. He even dyes the zippers on my costumes."
Of course, there are times when Pierre cannot baby her, such as the solitary moment in the dressing room just before Carol goes on. "I've struggled through hundreds of those countdowns," said Carol, "and they never seem to get any easier. I still panic. Did I remember to give my laces an extra tightening? Is my costume right? Did I remember to put on lipstick? How does my hair look? Will my nose run when I get out into the cold? Have I got a Kleenex? No, no, I can't make it out to the ice, my legs are cramped. No, they are rubbery. I can't stand up. I can't move. Who took my skate guards? And so it goes"—at least when Brunet is not near by.
But when he is with her, he can, in Carol's own words, "be terribly demanding at times." Never more so than on the night Carol received her Olympic medal, when Brunet ordered her back on the ice for practice at 11 p.m. "I was dead," said Carol. "All I wanted to do was go to bed." But Pierre just said, "The world championships at Vancouver begin next Tuesday."
March 7, 1960
The practice session was a stormy one, and Brunet seemed to like nothing Carol did. Her head was too low, her hands too gawky, her feet "like elephants' feet plowing around in the mud." Finally, past midnight, Carol had had it. She skated to the barrier where Pierre was standing, her face scarlet with anger and cold. Brunet leaned over and said, "Here's some hot chocolate. You must be cold."
The fight just dissolved out of Carol's face. "Now, how could you be angry with a man like that?" she asked later. "Where on earth did he find hot chocolate at that hour of the night? And, as usual, he was so right about the whole brutal session. I needed the tension physically beaten out of me. He really knows me better than I do myself."
After the world championships, Carol is through with competitive skating; and the idea of retirement is frightening to her. Brunet knows that he himself must let go of her altogether, and the thought makes him sad. "I don't know right now what I will do when Carol is gone," he said, staring at his fingertips. "I shall miss her dreadfully, for I love her very dearly. But this medal, now that she has won the struggle for it, it is nothing—bah—nothing. Merely the culmination of the first phase of Carol's life."