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Hana Mašková, Prague's Ice Queen

Today's blog comes as a request from 'suki' on the Figure Skating Universe forum, and I'm not going to lie... tackling this particular biography was a bit of a challenge, to say the least. A lot of the sources I was able to find relating to Hana Mašková were contemporary articles in Czech or blogs in Russian - not primary sources  - and there were some really conflicting stories out there relating to two major parts of her story: her mother and her tragic death. After sifting through a lot of the 'he said, she said' and contradictory information out there, I decided to give her story the old college try... and believe me, it's fascinating stuff!

Born September 26, 1949 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Hana Mašková was the daughter of Joseph Mašek, a hotel waiter, and Marie Mašková, who worked as a cook at a kindergarten. She started skating at the age of five in 1955 at the Štvanice Stadium. A year later, she began taking lessons from a former pairs skater named Karel Glogar, who had previously worked with Ája Vrzáňová and Dagmar Lerchová.

From the get-go, her mother Marie was always rinkside. She soon developed a reputation as a bit of a stage mother and taskmaster. In a 2006 article, journalist Martina Bittnerová claimed, "The lady was something abnormal. Indeed, in the last years of her life she was plagued by severe mental illness." However, other accounts paint Hana's mother as a woman who (understandably) suffered from severe depression after her first husband, a technical officer named John Kubata, murdered two of her children and then committed suicide. Whatever the case may have been, no one can accuse Marie of being an absentee skating parent.

Hana idolized Sjoukje Dijkstra and took training very seriously, getting up at four in the morning every day before school. More interested in free skating than spending time toiling away at school figures, she was constantly trying difficult jumps in practice but was often painted as a talented jumper who struggled with self-confidence when it came down to competing. Through work with coaches Jaroslav Sadílek, Míla Nováková (Doe) and Dr. Vladimir Koudelka, she soon developed into quite the little athlete. She competed in her first competition at the age of eight and won her first title at the age of ten.

At the age of fourteen, Hana competed in her first major international competition, the 1963 European Championships in Budapest. Though she finished fifteenth, she landed a double Lutz and double Axel and the Dutch, Polish and Soviet judges had her in the top four in free skating. What really hurt her in Budapest was a less than stellar showing in school figures and the fact she didn't skate with the panache and artistry of her competitors. To improve the artistic side of her skating, Hana was sent to study ballet from one Madame Aubrechtové, who had a home studio at Wenceslas Square. She also studied piano to gain a better appreciation of music and began creating new programs every year to try her hand at a variety of styles of music. This was unique in that many of her competitors would often rework the same free skating program for at least two seasons rather than create new programs every season. Her efforts didn't go unrecognized. Czechoslovakian news sources began comparing her 'new style' to that of Ája Vrzáňová.

In the years that followed, Hana made a progressive rise in the standings. After placing out of the top ten at both the 1964 Winter Olympic Games and World Championships, she finished fifth at the 1965 European Championships in Moscow, defeating all three of the medallists in free skating. After an unlucky thirteenth place finish at the 1965 World Championships in Colorado Springs, she finished just off the podium in fourth at the 1966 European Championships in Bratislava and sixth at the 1966 World Championships in Davos. However, her most impressive accomplishment during this period was undoubtedly her win at the 1966 Czechoslovakian Championships... with a cast on her arm after breaking her hand.

Hana on the podium with Gaby Seyfert and Zsuzsa Almássy at the 1967 European Championships

At the 1967 European Championships in Ljubljana, Hana won the silver medal behind Gaby Seyfert, soundly defeating the East German skater in the free skate. At the World Championships in Vienna that followed, she won the bronze medal. At that event, the Canadian and Czechoslovakian judges had her first in free skating, ahead of Peggy Fleming and Gaby Seyfert. With three of her five Czechoslovakian national titles under her belt at that point, it appeared she had a legitimate chance at a medal at the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck.

Left: Hana Mašková and Jiri Štaidl . Right: Hana Mašková 

Then Hana began dating lyricist, screenwriter and musician Jiri Štaidl, much to her mother's shagrin. By accounts, it was quite the rocky relationship. Her coach Míla Nováková recalled, "In the year that they were dating, she seemed to have aged ten years. But she could not escape from the captivity of that relationship." While her mother and coach seemed to point fingers at her boyfriend, Štaidl's friends had a different perspective. In an interview for the 2000 publication "Unexplained Deaths VI", one wrote, "Jiri changed. He became more serious, more responsible, restricted [his] benders and pranks and his lyrics began to return to depth and poetry." As if the outside influences on her relationship weren't enough, it didn't help that when Hana went to competitions she had to contend with the well-documented mind games of Jutta Müller, Gaby Seyfert and friends. 

Gaby Seyfert, Peggy Fleming and Hana Mašková at the 1968 Winter Olympic Games

At the 1968 European Championships in Västerås, Sweden, Hana soundly defeated Gaby Seyfert and Trixi Schuba. At first it seemed that she was carrying that momentum into the Winter Olympic Games. She was actually the leader after the first three figures in Grenoble but floundered in the latter trio, finding herself in fourth entering the free skate. She rebounded to snatch the bronze from Trixi Schuba and followed her medal win in France up with a bronze at the 1968 World Championships in Geneva. Then came an offer from Ája Vrzáňová to turn professional, which she soundly declined. With Peggy Fleming out of the picture, Hana wanted to take one final stab at a World title.

Whether it was self-confidence or the distraction of her relationship with Jiri, things started to unravel for Hana in 1969. At the European Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, she told her coach before she got on the ice that she couldn't feel her legs. Urged on to compete anyway, she landed two double Axels and a double Lutz, then just stopped her program. Her coach yelled at her to finish. She did, finishing second and leaving the rink in tears. She arrived in Colorado Springs for the 1969 World Championships injured after a nasty fall in an exhibition in Winterthur, Switzerland. After skating the figures in excruciating pain, she opted to withdraw after doctors refused to give her further sedative injections. Míla Nováková claimed by that point, Hana was just drained physically and psychologically. A la Toller Cranston years later, legend goes that she threw the skates she used for figures in a river.... and that was the end of Hana's amateur career.

Hana went on the ISU's 1969 World Champions Figure Skating Exhibition tour of North America then joined Holiday On Ice and the Vienna Ice Revue. Bittnerová wrote, "In the beginning she felt satisfied, she had time for a lot of others, and for most normal and common hobbies. Love blossomed with Štaidl... However, this period did not last a long time [as] it seemed performances in ice revues were tiring." Life wasn't all doom and gloom from the Czechoslovakian ice queen though. She relished her independence and told one Czechoslovakian reporter, "I am happy that [I can] finally [read] books, which I have for years had [not been able to]... The packages that I get from Prague, contain the books and sometimes, of course, apple pie from Mom. My hotel room is like a library." She won the World Professional title at Wembley and depending on which Czechoslovakian source you read, she either broke up with Jiri or she didn't. 

On the night of March 31, 1972, Hana was on her way from Paris to Poitiers, France with her dog and fellow skater Kveta Celflová. They stopped at a party thrown by a fellow skater. She had a drink or two (as one does) and her friend Milena Kladrubská tried to convince Hana and Kveta to stay the night and sleep it off, but they refused. On her drive to Poitiers, they stopped and picked up a French soldier who was hitchhiking. In the village of Vouvray, Hana lost control of her vehicle going around a sharp bend at at least one hundred kilometers an hour and collided with a truck with a trailer attached. The soldier and dog were killed instantly. Kveta was badly injured but survived after several operations. She said Hana died in great pain, with severe chest injuries and both of her feet crushed. She breathed her last breath in a French ambulance and was buried in the Vyšehrad cemetery. A beautiful statue designed by Jan Štursa decorates her final resting place. 

Jiri took Hana's death very hard and started drinking and driving himself. On October 9, 1973, he was on his way to his parents home near Prague and wanted to dazzle his newest female companion with his 'fancy driving skills'. What did he end up doing? Crashing into a truck. She survived; he didn't. Following Hana's death, there was a whole decade of debate and speculation about the crash between the police, insurance companies, Milena Kladrubská and Hana's mother. The whole matter fizzled out by 1981 but rumours persisted that someone cut her break line. Hana Havránková of the National Museum of Czechoslovakia claimed, "When the Treasury Department ordered to vacate [Hana's] apartment, they found [the] bronze medal [from] Grenoble. That got to us."

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The conflicting accounts that exist out there surrounding Hana's mother, relationship with  Jiri, mental state and the crash itself serve as wonderful examples of how there are always fifteen sides to every story. Wherever the truth may lie, the fact remains that one of skating's most talented and underappreciated skaters was lost far too soon and I think it is important that she is remembered for the contributions she made to the sport and not primarily for her untimely premature death. All too often in this world people are reduced to headlines, and Hana's story is so much more complex than that.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":