The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Petra Burka

Figure Skating


Action photo of Petra Burka

Action photo of Petra Burka

Canada's Sports Hall of Fame


Petra Burka’s free skating programs were always dazzling! Even when not winning an event, skating fans were in awe of her spectacular performances and incredible jumps. In Petra’s time the compulsory school figures accounted for 60% of the total score – they were perhaps the only chink in her armour. Or were they?

Petra never stopped working on school figures in her grueling daily practice sessions, but her renowned coach Ellen Burka, who also doubled as “Mom,” decided that Petra needed some ammunition to gain the attention of the judges in the free skate.

Her new weapon would be the triple Salchow, a difficult jump that entails a take-off on a backward inside edge followed by three rotations in the air and landing on the opposite foot on a backward outside edge.

Petra possessed an athletic body, natural talent, and was a sponge. She had this amazing ability to watch other fine skaters, dissect what they did and then repeat it on her own. In fact she had learned to do a double Axel on her own which simply astounded her mother. After all, at a time when competitive women did well just to land a clean double Axel and were not doing any triples, Petra landed 10 double Axels in a row in one competition.

Sharing some ice-time beside Canada’s own “jackrabbit” of jumping Don Jackson left her with some powerful mental images. Petra watched Don pioneer the triple Lutz, and just one day after witnessing him land a clean one, she did one too, but only in practice, and just for fun!

The triple Salchow became a showstopper and made the headlines when she landed one in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in 1962. It was the world’s first triple executed in competition by a woman. More importantly she finished second, earning her first berth to the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague. There, coach and skater were astonished to find how much more favourably the international judges scored Petra’s compulsories, a trend that continued throughout her global exploits. The 15 year old finished a surprising and very respectable fourth overall, very narrowly missing third.

In 1964, bronze medals at the Olympics and World Championships were just a hint of what was yet to come.

At the 1965 World Championships in Colorado, Petra truly demonstrated her prowess, only this time with a twist. She finished the compulsories in first place, surprising a few, including her mom. It prompted Toronto Star sportswriter Frank Orr to report: “Barring fire or flood, Petra, after the free style skating tonight will be the first global ladies’ champ since Barbara Ann Scott won in 1948”. Orr, Frank. (1965, March 4). Petra’s Performance Antidote for Toothache. Toronto Daily Star, p.11.

While there was no fire or flood, Petra uncharacteristically crashed and slid across the ice in the dying seconds of her performance causing a few moments of intense but unnecessary angst. Petra so dominated that a solid performance by American Peggy Fleming was not nearly enough to take advantage of the slip.

After the World Championship win, legendary coach Sheldon Galbraith remarked that Petra was the finest free skater he had observed in almost twenty years. All across the media that same acclaim echoed. Sweet Accolades indeed!

Amateurism’s cost weighs down Petra ’65 Marsh winner Adobe PDF Transcript


Canadian Junior Ladies Champion
World Championships – 4th Place
Innsbruck Olympic Games - Bronze medal
Bobbie Rosenfeld Trophy
Canadian Senior Ladies Champion
Held triple title of Canadian, North American, and World Champion
Lou Marsh Memorial Award
Inducted into the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame