Hall of Fame Class of 1982
Gene Kotlarek’s career began in 1945 in Duluth, Minnesota at the age of five. His career would span the next 22 years, 10 of which would be at the national or international levels of competition.
Gene began as any other youngster would, on the small IS-meter hill called “Rabbit Ears”, excelling rapidly. When he was seven, he graduated to the larger 30-meter hill where he competed, winning many competitions over the next several years. After winning the state high school title at age 17, he had a mishap in training for the Boys’ National Competition, sustaining a broken collar bone. When the team left Duluth for Reno, Gene was still in a shoulder harness. Fortunately, within the next week, his recovery was such that he was able to compete and win the Boys’ Title.
From that point on, Gene really began working hard. In 1968, he won almost every competition he entered, including the National Junior “A” title and the North American Championship. He was named as an alternate on the 1958 F.I.S. Team. In 1959, he won 11 of 14 competitions in preparation for the Squaw Valley Olympics. He was 2nd at Squaw Valley in the pre-game, 2nd in the National Championships with a fall and finished 10th in the Holmenkollen at Oslo, Norway (winning the Junior Class for boys 20 and under). In these two years, Gene had established 10 new hill records and he would go on to set six more, including the North American Distance Record. The 1960 Olympic year began very well for Gene. He won the tryout competitions, far outclassing more-seasoned veterans. Although he led his team through training at Squaw Valley, a mistake and a fall (due to his youth and desire) kept him out of the results. Yes, he was disappointed but with this experience behind him, it was off to Canada, Norway and Finland, then to Sky Flying in Yugoslavia, all top-level competitions for Gene and a collection of impressive results.
The next three years, 1961 through 1963, were not to be as eventful. Gene chose to return to college to complete his education. He did, however, remain very active in his physical training and competed whenever possible. In 1961 and 1962, he was second in the National Championships. Gene qualified for selection to the 1962 F.I.S. World Championship Team but again remained at home for the purpose of schooling.
In 1963, Gene won the National “A” title, set a new North American record at Steamboat Springs, Colorado and participated at the International Holmenkollen Ski Festival in Oslo, Norway. Competing against the best in the world, he recorded an impressive 4th place result.
In 1964, with his education now complete, full concentration and effort could be put into preparation for the Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. A 12th place over-all result in the four competitions of the Austria-Germany Springer Toumee was followed by good training in Europe and at home. All seemed ready! Prior to the games and during training in Europe, however, Gene sustained a minor ankle injury, a problem that would not heal and gave him trouble throughout the games. This combined with an untimely bout with the flu, reduced the chances for what seemed a possible medal for the United States. The best that happened was a 14th place on the 70 meter and a 24th place on the 90 meter. But the year was not over and Gene again placed 2nd in the National Championships, then established a mark that would stand for some time. In Obersatdorf, Germany at the Sky Flying competition three-day event, on his way to placing 11th over-all, he sailed 454 feet, father than any American ever had at that time and a record which stood for nine years.
His employer allowed him time off in 1966 to try out for the F.I.S. World Team. Gene made the team and again participated at the Holmenkollen in Oslo, Norway. He completed that year by again winning the Nationals, followed with a back-to-back win again in 1967 in Leavenworth, Washington.
Gene’s career in ski jumping did not end in February, 1967 at Westby, Wisconsin when he suffered a near-crippling dislocation of the ankle. In 1968, he was called upon to be the National Coach of the Ski Jumping Team, a position he held through 1970.
Gene Kotlarek was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1982.
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