Lions mourn loss of Gerard Mach (1926-2015)

UPDATE: Statements from Club Vice-president Ken Porter and Head Coach Andy McInnis

Many decades ago I attended Gerard Mach’s very first coaching presentation in Canada.  It was delivered in German with English interpretation.  Despite the language barriers,  for me, this one session was transformative  – an epiphany, really.  All those little discrete bits of random information that I had amassed from many, many sources over my first four years of coaching were, suddenly, a complete and integrated whole.  It was brilliant; it was defensible; it worked. 

Over the many years that followed, Gerard became a patient, reliable and tireless mentor, champion, and a friend.  No one has ever contributed so much to Canadian track and field, nor has anyone been as influential on the world-wide development of our sport as this completely remarkable man.  I am humbled to have had him as a friend.

Ken Porter – Ottawa Lions coach since 1982 / Current Club Vice President

Try as  I might to argue and debate with him, I could never win … there  was no hope and no personality that had higher walls to topple than Gerard Mach.

One always had to accept him for who he was, what he had done, what he was doing and what he could do.  He was “relentless” when a project or athlete needed support, if a team had to travel, if money was needed for a program or coach.    You always wanted Gerard on your side.   When I needed support for promising athletes and personal opportunity, he was always there. Provincial, national and international sport federations and global leaders saw him coming and gave Gerard what he needed because they knew that it was only a matter of time and they could never win against his bulldog persistence.

By the time I met Gerard in 1977 he had stepped back from any direct athlete coaching after the Montreal Olympics. He had begun the selfless process of pressing coaches to be judged and rewarded by the success of their athletes and by developing the professionalizing of coaching as a career.   It took me months which then became years to learn to his methodologies twisted around his thick accent (which never lost) tempered by an incredibly soft voice holding on to long pauses and sentences that always ended with a slap of the hand then and “then we will go in this way”.     

He gave me my first full-time coaching job in 1980 in London, Ontario … and when I went to coach at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1984, Gerard named the school a “Canadian warm-weather training centre” with intense protests by many coaches and programs back in Canada.   And then when I came back to Canada and on to Ottawa in 1988 Gerard and Ken Porter helped to support me and create another job.  Gerard took a national coaching appointment away from another and immediately gave it to me (there was not debate).    And so the training center now moved back to Canada from the southern USA and came to Ottawa.   

So we all then “went on in this way” (which was Gerard’s way) to
build the model Club in the Capital and the envy of all Canada based on a progressive athlete development, the sharing of information and the support and mutual respect of our coaches.

Gerard Mach provided to me and to a generation of coaches in the late 70’s to the mid-80’s, the inspiration, the appointments and a vision to create a career in this sport.   So many of us are all still coaching and leading programs today across the country.   No one speaks of stopping coaching or of building our sport.   Our fire is inextinguishable.  Once touched by Gerard Mach, you inherited the flame of who he was and what he had done that quickly became what you could do and what you could be.  He was a great coach but a better pioneer and builder of a sport system in a time which he
owned completely …  never to be forgotten.

Andy McInnis – Ottawa Lions Head Coach

The Ottawa Lions mourn the loss of famed coach Gerard Mach who passed away Tuesday at the age of 89. Born in Gdansk, Poland in 1926, Mach was long time member of the Polish national team, winning 400m gold at the World University Games in 1951 before becoming an Olympian at the 1952 Games in Helsinki.

While still an athlete, Mach set his sights on a coaching career, earning a master’s degree in physical education from the Sports Academy in Warsaw. He got his start as head coach of the Legia Club, which grew into the strongest club in Poland and defeated most European national teams. From 1952 to 1972, he was Poland’s national sprint and hurdles coach. Under his guidance, Poland emerged as the most powerful track and field team in Europe in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Perhaps the greatest of Gerard’s many Olympic medallists was the legendary Irena Szewinska, who made four Olympic appearances between 1964 and 1976, winning three gold, three silver, and one bronze medal.

Mach arrived in Ottawa in January 1973 to be Canada’s head coach of sprints and hurdles, determined to transform the events in this country and share his revolutionary training methods. Former Canadian Track and Field Association executive director Harry Kerrison recalled the impact of Gerard’s system, “The Mach exercises consist of a lot of high knee lifting and high knee kicking and striding that developed and refined the movement of the muscles required in running. It sounds so simple, but they were different, and our athletes had never done anything like them. It was also his personality that helped to bring along athletes and encourage them. The athletes not only developed a rapport, but also admiration. He was just very, very effective.”

The level of effectiveness was evident at the 1976 Olympics with all four of Canada’s relay teams making the finals in Montreal, including the men’s 4x400m team, who hold the national record to this day. Mach was head coach at the 1976, 1980, and 1984 Olympic Games, the 1978 and 1982 Commonwealth Games, and the 1979 Pan American Games. His athletes captured five Olympic medals and set five Canadian records. In total, he produced 20 Olympic finalists and 52 top carded, or “A”, athletes.Coaches 98uu

According to fellow Athletics Canada Hall of Fame Coach Andy Higgins, Gerard “changed our belief system to seeing ourselves as able to compete with the world. He was totally committed to this idea; it was his obsession. He had the clearest understanding of anybody I’ve met anywhere in the Canadian sport system that the top athletes deserve everything we can give them to perform well. He knew that really good coaches should be treasured and kept around for as long as possible because they influence other coaches and touch generation after generation of athletes. He would travel anywhere, put in any amount of time, do whatever was necessary to help a coach do a better job.”

“From the moment he landed in Canada, Gerard’s mission was simple: to make Canada an athletics nation, recognized as a leader throughout the world,” wrote Cecil Smith, former editor of Athletics magazine. “This he accomplished, and many of today’s coaches are products of the Mach standardized system of coaching. He will always be remembered by those he touched as a kind, sensitive person who always tried to see the best side of people. Even when met with adversity he would, in his quiet way, try to restore calm and sanity. His legacy lives on through the people he preached to and taught. People of his ilk only come now and again. Canada will wait a long, long time before another Gerard Mach appears on the scene.”

Reactions from Ottawa’s track and field community have focused on the great impact Mach had. “Deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my former coach Gerard Mach. I remember, with great fondness, many long nights in cold fall rains under the lights at Terry Fox – 100 metres running A’s. His impact on my life, and countless others is immeasurable. I’m not sure I can adequately express my grief. He always believed in me, even when I didn’t,” said Jeff Keays, a former Canadian High School Record Holder in the 110m hurdles.

Mach’s impact wasn’t restricted to athletes as former Lions coach Sean Burges remarked, “Gerard was one of the coaches who taught me how teach others to run. Almost every track and field athlete has been touched by his brilliance — he put together the drill system at the heart of contemporary track coaching. A sporting genius whom we were so lucky to have in Canada”