Gerard Mach

With Gerard Mach’s passing on September 22nd, just one week after his 89th birthday, Canada and the athletics world is now trying to come to terms with the loss of one of its greatest and most influential coaching figures. Gerard’s legacy is seen on every track, and in every region across our nation. Over the years,leading American coaches have noted that Gerard’s ‘system’ works as the foundation for every great sprinting program throughout the world. Use of the nominal ‘Mach’ drills are seen everywhere; and while quality of execution of the As, Bs and Cs may have eroded a bit over the decades, their essential place in skill development remains as important as ever.

Gerard Mach was born on September 16, 1926 in Danzig, an enclave on the Baltic coast within Poland. Gerard’s father was part of the German-speaking majority and his mother was from the large Polish-speaking minority. Gerard grew up exposed to both languages, and was encouraged to embrace all traditions. Because of their dual identity, the Mach family suffered at the hands of the Germans when Danzig was captured in the first days of World War II, and again later at the hands of the Russians when the city was re-captured in 1944. During that time, Gerard managed to survive intense bombings of the city by both sides, but he lost many family members.

When he was just nine, Gerard began playing soccer with a local club in Danzig.  By the end of the war, Gerard was at an elite level player attached to a professional soccer league with multi-sport club called Lechia Gdansk. While playing soccer professionally he began to train and compete with Lechia’s track and field team as well. By 1946 he was the provincial champion in the 100m, 200m and 400m. In 1948, he left soccer for a career in track and field, and went on to win the first of his eleven national titles in the 400m.

An enviable record by any standard, Gerard Mach’s international career as an athlete spanned three European Championships, three World University (FISU) Games, and two Olympic Games. During this competitive period he moved from Danzig (now re-named Gdansk and incorporated into Poland) to Warsaw where he combined his role as athlete with a growing role in coaching. Gerard specialized in sprints, hurdles and relays with the Legia athletic club, and by 1952, a mere 18 months after arriving in Warsaw, Legia was the top-ranked Club in Poland.  A national champion in the 400m, Gerard went on to become the National Coach in that event. He was just 27.

Referred to as a master coach and a coach’s coach, Gerard was a self-taught athlete. “I was studying at the Academy of Physical Education and Sport,” he once explained, “and from what I was learning in physiology and biomechanics I knew that the training being given by coaches in the sprints was not only wrong, it was dangerous. One hundred metre sprinters should not have a work-out for an 800m.”

His life’s work advanced from those early observations, thus allowing Gerard to create a system for the development of sprinters. As his own popularity increased, and more people became aware of his radical new coaching system, the Eastern European communist nations grew increasingly intent on protecting the “gem” in their midst. Eventually, Polish authorities refused to allow him to leave. Regardless of his confines, Gerard began to offer more clinics under IAAF and IOC auspices around the world; each one allowed him to leave Poland and Eastern Europe for weeks at a time.

In 1972, at the Munich Olympics, Adidas arranged a meeting between Gerard and officials from the Coaching Association of Canada. Following that meeting, a series of clinics were scheduled across Canada; they were to begin in early 1973 and would last for a period of three months.  The profound impact that these clinics had on sprint and hurdle coaches prompted the Canadian Track and Field Association to offer Gerard a head coaching position in sprints, hurdles and relays. Polish authorities granted Gerard permission to relocate until the end of the Montreal Games. Shortly after Gerard’s appointment, Lynn Davies was hired as the Technical Director, Paul Poce as Distance coach, Jean-Paul Baert as the Throws coach, and Derek Boosey as the Jumps and Combined Events coach. It was a marvelous team.

At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, not a single Canadian made the finals in any sprint, hurdle or relay events. Just three years later at the Pan American Games, however, Canadian improvement was deemed significant, particularly in the relay events. At the Montreal Olympic Games all four Canadian relay teams advanced to the finals with two teams just barely missing the medals. To this day, the times recorded remain among thevery best ever posted by Canadian teams. And this was just the beginning.

Coaches who were trained and mentored by Gerard Mach found new and inventive ways to develop athletes. In both the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton and at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Canadian times and results proved that the Mach ‘system’ was, indeed, working. Canadians didn’t just place in finals … they placed on the podium.

Following the Montreal Games, Gerard accepted the position of Head Coach and Program Director for the CTFA. His family was eventually permitted to join him in Canada, albeit only in stages.  Gerard remained a tireless worker, fully responsible for the sprint, hurdle and relay programs, while simultaneously crossing the country and the world in a never-ending attempt to promote track and field.

Expectations were high for Canadian track and field athletes at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Following those Games, however, the doping scandal and the subsequent national inquiry, meant that disappointment in our nation’s athletics program was abundant. Individuals who were central to the doping scandal were quick to affirm that they had deliberately hidden their illegal regimes from Gerard,nevertheless, his well-earned and well-deserved reputation was tarnished, and never fully recovered.  Two years later, a coronary bypass only managed to further reduce Gerard’s ability to interact with coaches and athletes, something that had been such a central part of his life.

In 2008, Gerard’s devoted wife of 63 years, Klara, passed away.  Maria, the couple’s devoted daughter, stepped in to look after her father, and was with Gerard throughout his final years, and ultimately at his bedside when he passed away on September 22nd.

Oftentimes, the people we know and admire in this life are far too easily forgotten in death. Gerard, however, will never be.  He was a pillar of a man known and loved by many. He was, additionally, an influence to abounding individuals the world over. Gerard Mach will not be forgotten.

Ken Porter, Ottawa

Gerard Mach
Born – September 16, 1926 in the Free City of Danzig
Died – September 22 in Ottawa, Ontario
Pre-deceased by his wife Klara in 2008, and his son Henry in Sweden in 2014. Survived by his daughter Maria Mach of Ottawa, and his daughter-in-law, two grand-daughters and one grandson, all of whom live in Sweden
Funeral Arrangements
Place: Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Sussex Drive, Ottawa (opposite the National Gallery of Canada)
Date: Saturday, October 10, 2015
Time: 9:30 a.m.
In lieu of flowers a donation to a charity of your choice is suggested. An obituary will be posted in the Ottawa Citizen on October 3, 2015 and friends and admirers are invited to post their personal remembrances online.