Two-time Olympic jumper and U.S. Hall of Famer

Passing Date: 
Thursday, November 9, 2017

Two-time Olympic ski jumper and U.S. Hall of Famer Eugene “Gene” Kotlarek died November 9, 2017, in his hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Kotlarek, who was a jumping legend in the 1960s, was 77.

Born in 1940, Kotlarek grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, where he began skiing at the age of five under the tutelage of his father, George. (A three-time national jumping champion, George was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1968.) By 17, Gene had won the Minnesota state high-school title, as well as the boys’ title at the national junior championships.

Kotlarek was named to his first Olympic team in 1960, representing the U.S. on home territory at Squaw Valley. He was named again to compete at the Winter Games in Innsbruck in 1964.

In 1963, Kotlarek and his close friend John “The Bullet” Balfanz astonished the ski-jumping world when they placed second (Balfanz) and fourth (Kotlarek) at the legendary Holmenkollen meet in Oslo. Kotlarek was only a fraction of a point out of third place, while Balfanz was the first U.S. jumper ever to make the podium in a major European meet.

Other career highlights include three national titles (1963, 1966 and 1967) and setting the American distance record by flying 454 feet in Oberstdorf, Germany in 1964. The record stood for nearly a decade. After injuring his ankle in 1967, he retired from competition. Gene then served as the U.S. national jumping coach from 1968 until 1970 before starting a career in business. He was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1982. —Seth Masia 


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