Sport: Figure skating
Birth: Prague, Czechoslovakia, May 20, 1940
Career Highlights1955 - National Junior Pairs Title (with brother Otto)
1960 - Second place, World Figure Skating Championships
1961 - National Pairs Title
1961 - North American Pairs Title
1962 - National Pairs Title
1962 - World Pairs Title
1963-1969 - Member, Ice Capades
In 1948, the Jelinek family fled the communist regime of their native Czechoslovakia. Siblings Maria and Otto were only six and eight years old; little did they know that the next time they were to bid farewell to their homeland, they would do so not as fugitives but as world figure skating champions.
Maria and Otto began training together soon after they settled in Canada. In 1955, they claimed the national junior pairs title and then went on to place third at both the 1957 and 1958 world championships.
At the 1960 Olympic Games, Otto and Maria claimed fourth place in the pairs event. That same year, they claimed second place at the world championships, installing themselves as likely contenders for the gold the following year.
Sure enough, the skating siblings began to steadily climb to the top of the competitive ranks in 1961, claiming the national pairs title. The day before the North American championships, however, a bad fall left Otto with a concussion and Maria with a giant gash in her thigh. Showing remarkable fortitude, the pair ignored the pleadings of physicians, shook off their injuries, took to the ice, and won the title.
Ironically, the 1961 world championships were held in Prague, the very city that Maria and Otto had fled more than a decade earlier. The Jelineks found themselves faced with a daunting obstacle. As Czech citizens, they were still subject to Czech laws, and their status as escaped citizens could have had serious repercussion upon their re-entry into the Iron Curtain country. To protect its athletes, the International Skating Union stepped in and threatened to pull the championships out of Prague unless the Jelineks were granted safe passage. Though the skating siblings had already declared that they would compete at all costs, the Czech government complied and granted a withdrawal of their Czech citizenship.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck the figure skating world just before the championships. The plane carrying the American figure skating team crashed en-route to Europe, and the competition was postponed out of respect for the perished athletes.
The Jelineks put off their retirement for another year and returned to Prague for the 1962 world championships. Though Maria took a tumble after a double axel jump, the couple redeemed themselves with a daring new move. Maria went into a death spiral while Otto executed an axel jump, a manoeuvre that came to be known as the “Jelinek Death Spiral.” There, in their hometown, the brother and sister duo proudly claimed the world pairs title for their adopted country.
Following this crowning accomplishment, both Otto and Maria retired from competition and starred with the Ice Follies from 1963-69. They were inducted into the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1994.
Otto later entered the world of politics, eventually earning a place in the parliamentary cabinet, serving as Minister of Fitness and Amateur Sport from 1984-88. He was later appointed Minister of Supply and Services and Minister of Revenue but left parliament when the Conservative government lost power in 1993.