Coaching pioneer inspired countless swimmers, coaches

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MONTREAL – The Canadian swimming community is mourning the loss of George Gate. The coaching pioneer, who died at age 89 Sunday, inspired countless other coaches and swimmers to excel over a career that spanned decades.

MONTREAL – The Canadian swimming community is mourning the loss of George Gate.

The coaching pioneer, who died at age 89 Sunday, inspired countless other coaches and swimmers to excel over a career that spanned decades.

Originally from England, Gate put himself on the Canadian coaching map through his incredible accomplishments with the Ocean Falls Amateur Swimming Club in British Columbia. Despite drawing from a population of just 3,000, from 1948 to 1974 there was at least one swimmer from the community on every Canadian international swim team.

Gate was head coach from 1950 to 1964 and the list of swimmers he developed includes Ralph Hutton, Allan, Ron and Sandy Gilchrist, Jack Kelso, Lenora Fisher and Richard Pound, a 100-metre freestyle finalist who later became an influential IOC executive and head of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Gate moved to Montreal in 1964 and continued to affect not only swimmers, but other coaches working for him.

“Without him I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be coaching,” said Tom Johnson, one of several coaches Gate influenced. Johnson, head coach of the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Vancouver and a longtime national team coach, got his start under Gate in Pointe-Claire.

As a coach, Gate was ahead of his time in both training and sports psychology.

“He always kept making you look higher and be better than you were at the moment in time,” Johnson recalled. “In the club system and the high performance realm of world swimming, he was coaching way above where anybody else thought out of a 20-yard pool in Ocean Falls. If he could do that in Ocean Falls you started to believe anything was possible. A lot of people benefitted from his passion and his wisdom and his love for the sport.”

Tom’s twin brother Dave, now head coach at Calgary’s Cascade Swimming Club, also reminisced about Gate’s role as a mentor early in his career.

“It’s a sad day. He meant a lot to Canadian swimming and a lot to me personally. I swam for him as a swimmer and I learned a tremendous amount from him as a coach. He gave me my opportunity in swimming and I’m forever grateful to what I learned from George and to have known him personally and professionally,” Dave Johnson said. “We had a great enjoyment factor around being in swimming and coaching swimming. He taught you that you needed to have that passion but also really enjoy it.”

The Johnson brothers are two of many Canadian coaches who got their starts under Gate at the Pointe-Claire Swim Club. National junior coach Ken McKinnon was also a disciple.

“His most important message to me was that my swimmers were all individuals who I should care deeply about, not just their swimming times,” McKinnon said. “Through all the work and learning we always had fun.”

In Pointe-Claire, Gate continued to oversee top international swimmers, including Peter Szmidt, the 400-metre freestyle world record-holder in 1980-81; 1976 Olympic double bronze-medalist Anne Jardin; and 1970s international-champion freestyle/butterfly racer Wendy Quirk. The club produced a total of 26 Olympic swimmers and divers during his tenure. He coached many Canadian international teams, including as Olympic coach in 1968.

Gate died peacefully after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, surrounded by family, including his four children Brenda, Diane, Bill and Richard.

Gate is a member of the Order of Canada, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the International Swimming Hall of Fame and Swimming Canada’s Circle of Excellence.

“It would be very difficult to find anyone in any sport or organization for that matter that has had the same impact to a nation as George Gate. In our case, we can point to George and truly say he was a catalyst for swimming and aquatics in Canada,” said Swimming Canada CEO Ahmed El-Awadi, also a Pointe-Claire product. “I for one am proud to say that I have come from the system George produced. Having worked at Pointe-Claire throughout the 90s and closely with his son Bill it was obvious right away there was something special about George. I think most of all, amongst everything he has done, the legacy he has left will be the fact that fewer children will drown because of him. He taught their grandparents the value of swimming lessons, they taught their children and their children are teaching theirs. He was truly a remarkable man and a phenomenal Canadian. He will be missed.”

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