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  • Norman Brook

Ian Harries - Friend and Coaching Colleague

I awoke last Sunday to a message from Ian Harries’ wife Christine to say that Ian had passed away on Saturday night.

I first met Ian in April 1986 when I traveled to Zimbabwe with my then National Coaching colleague Dave Johnston to deliver a track and field athletics coaching course at Morris Depot in Harare. At the time Ian was Zimbabwe’s National Athletics Coach a role he performed in addition to being the Sports Director at the University of Zimbabwe. Ian’s role as National Coach was sponsored by Chibuku Breweries Limited. He introduced us to this commercial sorghum beer based on the traditional Umqombothi homemade African beers. It looked milky and tasted very malty and was not quite to my taste sadly as I would liked to have supported his sponsor.

During our conversations in Harare, I had mentioned to Ian that I had graduated with a Diploma in Sports Coaching from Dunfermline College of Physical Education, which by that stage had become part of Moray House College of Education. Then later that year, I heard that Ian had enrolled in the course and was off to Edinburgh for a year with Christine and his two children Simon and Gemma.

Being in Edinburgh gave me the opportunity in my National Coaching role to invite him and the family over to Belfast where he lectured on middle distance running at one of our coaching courses. Ian graduated from Moray House in 1987 and headed back to Southern Africa.

The next year Ian and family moved to South Africa where he took up the role Senior Sports Officer at the Vaal University of Technology. It was during his time there that Ian coached several South African runners including the late Mbulaeni Mulaudzi who won Commonwealth 800m Gold (2002) and Olympic 800m Silver (2004) under his tutelage.

The next time I met Ian was whilst I was on a working trip to Lesotho delivering a sports management course for the British Council in Maseru, I think around 1995. After the course I was driven to Ficksburg Bridge where I met up with Ian. We then got in his car, and then we headed up to the Maluti Mountains and the New Oxbow Lodge and nearby Ski slopes. Ian was investigating the possibility of a high-altitude camp for high altitude athletes with the lodge and ski slopes being 3050m above sea level. I remember that I suffered from altitude sickness on our overnight stay and awoke to iced windows something I knew from Scottish winters but never expected in the African summer. The next day we visited the athletics track in Bethlehem, South Africa not far over the Lesotho/South Africa border.

Although Ian was born in Wales, he spent most of life in Africa. It was in the UK though that he found much of his coaching inspiration. He was a big fan of the British Athletics Coaching System and a proud member of the British Milers Club for over 50 years. Ian was to be recognized by the club when he was invited to be a Guest Speaker at the 2003 United Kingdom Athletics/British Milers Club Annual Coaches Seminar at the University of Birmingham. His topic “My Training of a World Class 800m Runner” based on his coaching of Mbulaeni Mulaudzi.

Over the years Ian kept in contact and when I relocated to Cape Town in 2008 there were frequent calls and emails mainly discussing the state of the athletics in South Africa which frustrated Ian greatly. He could see the abundance of talent in the country and wanted to see a more professional approach taken to coach development, talent development and high-performance athletics.

Ian was an excellent coach developer and mentor who had presented on athletics coaching in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Eire, Kenya, Namibia, and Swaziland. He was one of the first two World Athletics Level 1 & 2 Lecturers in all Track & Field events, the other being the late Abrie de Swardt. Up until he recently took ill, Ian was coaching developing middle distance runners at the Isak Steyl Stadium at the Vaal University of Technology and leaving a legacy by mentoring several coaches.

On one of my visits to Johannesburg, I spent a day with Ian and Christine in Vanderbijlpark. Like many other middle-distance coaches that I have had the privilege of visiting in the past, Ian had his study which was packed with books on running, athletics, physiology, etc. In the days before the internet coaches built up their own bank of coaching knowledge and Ian had certainly built up an impressive library.

Apart from family and athletics, Ian’s interests also included hiking mountains. I remember when I contacted him soon after arriving in Cape Town, he was finalizing plans to walk up Mount Kilimanjaro from Tanzania. He also hiked up to the Mount Everest Base Camp on two occasions in 2010 and 2011.

Looking through our email correspondence over the last few years, much of our conversations were about the book that Ian had written and his challenge of finding a publisher. Last year, Ian managed to publish “Running from the Heart, My Personal Coaching Memoir.” as an e-book and in paperback. If you are interested, you can find it on Amazon Books. The book is packed with information on the theory and practice of endurance running and should certainly be in the next generation of coaches’ libraries.

Athletics has lost a great coach, mentor, coach developer and thought leader.

My sincere condolences to Christine, Gemma and Simon, and to family and friends.

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