In Memoriam – Payton Jordan
“A life lived to its fullest with passion and an inspiration to many. The challenge is for us all to stand on the shoulders of giants such as Coach Jordan and continue his legacy.“
— from Dave Shrock, Pacific Association/USATF Coaches Committee Chair
Payton Jordan: 1917-2009
– David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics Media Relations
Payton Jordan was Stanford’s head coach from 1957-79.
Feb. 6, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. – Payton Jordan, the longtime Stanford track and field coach who died Thursday at age 91, was an icon in the sport because of his roles in some of its most seminal moments. Jordan, who died of cancer in Laguna Hills, left a lasting imprint not only as a coach, but as an administrator and athlete.
The turmoil and triumph of the 1968 Olympic Games? Jordan was there. The most successful single track and field meet in American history? It was Jordan’s idea. The masters movement that allows athletes to shine into old age. Jordan was a pioneer.
But those who knew Jordan were touched by him in ways that went far beyond his substantial influence in the sport. “Most people talk about Payton in reference to track,” said Stanford’s Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field, Edrick Floreal. “But for the people who really know Payton, there is so much more. “He’s a rare person. Payton had the rare ability to captivate people, to inspire people to expand their wings and expand their limits. “You look at guys that were coached by Payton and you see how they treat their wives, treat their kids or run their businesses. Those are the examples of Payton’s influence.”
Jordan coached Stanford from 1957-79, producing seven Olympic athletes, six world-record holders and six national champions. But that’s not all. He was the mastermind behind the 1962 U.S. vs. USSR dual meet that drew 155,000 over two days to Stanford Stadium during the height of the Cold War. The friendships Jordan developed and the welcoming tone of the meet during a tense period of history softened America’s view of the Soviets, if only for a short while. “He greeted them with a great big smile and with an outstretched hand,” said longtime friend Bob Murphy. “He had a smile that would just melt the world. “He found a vein of understanding and appreciation that did not exist in any government so-called diplomacy. He found a common ground, in track and field, where the Soviets and the U.S. could get together and compete in a friendly and very productive way.
“It certainly produced a warming spot in the Cold War. There was a numb that extended far into Moscow and Washington D.C.”
His accomplishments were many.
In his younger days, Jordan was a record-breaking sprinter. He was a member of USC’s world-record 4×440 relay team (40.5) in 1938 and ran the fastest 100 yards ever on grass, in 1941. In addition to helping the Trojans to national track championships in 1938 and 1939, he helped USC beat Duke in the 1939 Rose Bowl.
Jordan never competed in the Olympics, with the 1940 and 1944 Games canceled during World War II. Jordan joined the Navy instead and, afterward, began his coaching career at Occidental College, which he led to two NAIA titles and 10 conference championships. Late in his coaching career and after retirement, Jordan gave rise to the masters track movement, setting six age-group world records in the sprints. In 1997 at age 80, Jordan set the last of his world marks, 14.65 in the 100 meters and 30.89 in the 200. And though he moved to Southern California, Jordan continued to play an enthusiastic role in Stanford track and field, lending his name to the annual invitational that continues to bear his name. When the meet formerly known as the U.S. Open was renamed in his honor in 2004, Jordan said, “I am overwhelmed and deeply grateful to be honored by my old school. It is a wonderful feeling to know that you are still remembered.”
But Jordan’s supreme achievement may have been his delicate handling of the 1968 U.S. Olympic team in Mexico City. Jordan was the head coach of the team many consider to be the greatest of all-time. It earned a record 24 medals, 12 gold, and featured Bob Beamon’s extraordinary long jump, Dick Fosbury’s revolutionary high jump technique, and world marks in the sprints by Jim Hines and Lee Evans. Before the Games, Jordan’s tolerance and open-mindedness helped deflect a threatened boycott from the team’s African-American athletes and kept the team from falling apart. And during the Games, he dealt with the fallout of the Tommie Smith-John Carlos black-gloved civil rights protest that drew the ire of Olympic officials and politicians and forced the athletes out of the Games. Jordan and sprint coach Stan Wright were informed of Smith’s and Carlos’s plans, but allowed them to make their own decisions. They even supplied the runners with black socks and handkerchiefs. “I always tell my kids, everybody’s born for a time in their life,” Floreal said. “That there is a special person to handle every difficult moment in life. I think Payton Jordan was bred for that time. “He was the right person at the right time to handle that situation. Nobody could have handled it any better.
“Maybe that’s his legacy. Maybe, that’s how his legacy lives in the rest of us.”
Track and field coach Payton Jordan dead at 91
The Associated Press
Friday, February 6, 2009; 1:43 AM
LAGUNA HILLS, Calif. — Payton Jordan, coach of the record-setting 1968 US Olympic track and field team, died Thursday. He was 91.
Jordan died of cancer at his home in Laguna Hills, daughter Cheryl Melville said.
He led the US track team to a record 24 medals, 12 of them gold, at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. He served as Stanford’s track and field coach from 1957-79.
Years ago, Jordan recalled how his Olympic team excelled despite some black athletes threatening to boycott the games over a push for civil rights.
“We just sat down and talked about how hard everyone worked for so long to get ready for this lifetime opportunity,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. “It was like the high altitude in Mexico City _ something we weren’t used to _ or like an injury. It was just something we had to work through and overcome.”
Before his coaching career, Jordan broke world records with Southern California _ in the 440-yard relay in 1938 and the 100-yard dash on grass in 1941. His records stood for decades. He also played football for USC and played in the 1939 Rose Bowl.
Instead of competing in the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, which were canceled due to World War II, Jordan joined the Navy.
He started his coaching career at Occidental College, and later produced seven Olympic athletes at Stanford.
After retirement, he laced up his running shoes to compete in masters races. He set his last masters world record in the 100-yard dash at the Penn Relays in 1998 _ at age 80. He set his last world record in the 100-meter dash in 1997.
He was married to his wife Marge for 66 years before she died in 2006.
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