“ There was a special brand of toughness to Gerard Mach..., I would learn that the man had no breaking point – that he would fight for any scrap he could get”. ( “ Speed Trap” copyright 1991 Charlie Francis and Jeff Coplon
Gerard Mach 1926 – 2015
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with my family and Canada.
Thank you for having the confidence to share what you knew with our country, the coaches and the athletes.
I feel great gratitude for the impact you have had on my family.
With great fondness,
The family of Angela Coon ( and the late Coach Charlie Francis 1948 – 2010)
What has been the impact of Gerard Mach on your career as an athlete and coach?
Gerard Mach entered the pictured as I was ending my career as an athlete in 1972 – 73. Gerard came to Canada as National Coach, bringing with him his knowledge on massage and regenerative techniques. He introduced me to the area of planning and periodization with time frames and specific performance targets. He would say that when you have a young athlete their goal is to perform at any time – just keep them going- let them achieve better and better performances and later on, as they mature, they will have to perform at the correct time – then they would have to win, when they need to win. It took a long time before I could piece these bits of information together.
What was Gerard Mach’s position in Poland?
For many years in Poland, Gerard was the national sprinting coach and after having been a National Champion himself in 1948. Even as head coach, he was still competing on the relay team as late as 1959, 1960. In spite of the fact that he was a very young head coach, by 1966 his sprinters completely dominated the European Championships. Each participating country was allowed only two entries in that meet and his sprinters finished first and second in every event and won all the relays. He was the leading sprinting coach in the world at the time. Gerard was an innovator. He changed the training program, from single periodization ( one peak per year) to double periodization ( two peaks a year) which was unknown in Europe and yet common in North America. They had no winter competitions in Europe, so Gerard pushed very strongly for them. At the time the conventional wisdom was that you could only peak once a year and that if you were running fast at the beginning of the year you would surely fall at the end of the year. Gerard dispelled those myths. He showed that athletes could open up at the beginning of the season at their personal bests levels and continue at that level right through the season.
Describe the situation when Gerard began coaching in Canada.
He was hired as National sprint coach in Canada in 1973 and I still an athlete at the time. We thought his demands were radical but in fact he was just describing training conditions as they would be in the rest of the world. This was a totally unfamiliar context for us. At our first meeting he said he should have relay meetings, so he brought all the sprinters together and we went out to Etobicoke stadium. When he saw that the track was made of tar he said “ This track is garbage, we will go to a tartan track”. Where is the closest tartan track?” He was then informed that the closest one was in Winnipeg. “What?! One hundred Tartan tracks in Africa and you don’t have on in Toronto?” He could not believe the situation. . He was bewildered by the training environment that existed in Canada at the time. I said to Gerard. “I can’t leave my job to go to training camps.” He replied. “ Well Charlie, you are the national champion, they must send you and they must pay you too.” What he was saying was normal for any other country in the western world. If you are national champion in any other country it does mean something. An employer in this country would most likely not hire someone if they knew he / she was the national sprint champion who would require time off for training camps and competition.
Gerard had expected that he would come to Canada and do everything he wanted to as he had been used to in Poland, and by 1976 we’d be running well. Gerard quickly learned that the problems he was faced with were overwhelming. He had to do virtually everything himself: he had to do all the massage, he had to do all the treatment. For example in 1975 when Canada sent a team to the Pan Am Games, Gerard was the only coach for 30 to 40 athletes, with the 100 m, 200m, 400m and 4 x 4 men’s and woman’s relay.
Can you expand on some of the things you learned from Gerard?
One thing- probably the single most important thing he taught me was tenacity. Never give up! That is the one thing he always emphasized. Once you go down, once you give up, there is no hope, there’s nothing. So you must not break down, you must not give up –you’ve just go to keep plugging, and no matter what you are faced with, you don’t give up.
Gerard also taught me certain techniques of massage applied at the level of the skeletal muscle to find out how low or how high the tone should be. He would show you what you should expect to feel in the muscle of correctly prepared athletes and other things to look for. For instance, sometimes you have to put an athlete on his back and lift the knee in order to find certain lines of tightness in the hamstring that are deeper than would be found by superficial examination. Normally you would not feel this tightness at all.
He tried to demonstrate all aspects of regeneration but it was a long learning process and I did not have a complete frame of reference. As a result I was unable to look at things in retrospect because I needed to look at new information in the context of where I was and initially I didn’t know the right questions to ask. I didn’t know how the training factors fit together, and I was not aware of how plans were set up and so on. Going through the actual coaching process each year, you begin to understand more and more what you should be doing.
What has Gerard’s influence been on you from the technical standpoint?
We never really discussed running technique. The real questions then related to the delivery of training methods – When? How much? Why? How much recovery? How to avoid Problems? How to schedule competitions? How to recover from injuries?
Gerard’s injury rehabilitation program was very strong. He demonstrated that you can bring an athlete back from a hamstring pull in only 10 days. Traditionally you’d be looking at weeks, and of course, the longer it takes to come back, the more training time you are losing along the way. It’s amazing to be able to bring the athlete back to the point of running 200 m distances in five or six days and maybe back to running 100 m in eight or ten days.
Gerard would prescribe extensive massage and other recovery techniques in combination with a system that would determine the distance over which you could accelerate, as you rehabilitated. This technique was based on the fact that your final speed is determined by how far you are able to accelerate. He would establish check marks and would bring the athlete through these check marks over a series of days. On the basis of the results he would give athletes individual exercises to do and assign progressively longer acceleration distances, which determined with some certainty when the athlete was prepared to compete. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. He also convinced me to continue power work throughout the entire season.
The following has been take out of “The Charlie Francis Training System” by Charlie Francis and Paul Patterson , pages ix to xi )