Gene Kotlarek was taught ski jumping by his father, George Kotlarek, who is a member of the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame. By the age of 17, Gene was winning national titles, taking the 1958 Class A Boys title, and winning the 1959 National Junior A championship. He would eventually win three US Senior titles (1963, 1966-67). In 1960 he won 11 of 14 events leading up to the Olympic Games and set 10 hill records during that time. In 1964 he set a US record by going 454 feet (138 m) at Oberstdorf, Germany, a record not broken for nine years. Kotlarek graduated from the University of Minnesota and represented the Duluth Ski Club. He later worked as an accountant. In 1982 he was elected to the US Ski Hall of Fame.