Sri Chinmoy with his Himalayan champion-coach: Payton Jordan

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Part I — Meeting with Payton Jordan

SCH 1-11. On 4 June 1982 Sri Chinmoy met with one of the all-time great coaches and champion athletes, Payton Jordan. Following are excerpts from their conversation, which took place in Mr. Jordan's office at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Jesse Owens

Mr. Jordan: Please sit down and make yourself comfortable. I am pleased that you came.

Sri Chinmoy: I am so happy and honoured to be here. I met Jesse Owens, but I have never met you. Better late than never! This is something in my life that I will always treasure.

Mr. Jordan: Thank you so much. I'm honoured to be spoken of in the same breath as Jesse Owens. He was oneself my dear friends, one of my inspirations and treasured idols.

Sri Chinmoy: Last night I was reading your book Champions in the Making. I learned so much from it. At one point you said something so profound. Many people are under the impression that first you have to move the hands and then the legs follow. But you said, "If this is so, then why do people not run on their hands?"

Mr. Jordan: That's right. A lot of people look at this from a different point of view, but this is my viewpoint. It is like asking which comes first: the chicken or the egg. The chicken and the egg principle really does apply here.

Sri Chinmoy: In your book you also said many things about Jesse Owens — about his style and about the movements of his hands. In your book you said you were Jesse Owens' colleague, that you used to run with him.

Mr. Jordan: Yes, I ran with him when I was in my early years and he was in his last years of competition. But we ran together and had some wonderful competitions. We had fun. Jesse Owens, at the time that I was able to observe him, was one of the smoothest and most beautiful runners the world has ever known. I feel he expressed what God gave him as well as anyone in his field ever did. He was amazing, not only as an athlete but also as a person. He did and said and felt things that were very, very meaningful. I find that in a lifetime you run into those types of people only occasionally. I was very privileged to have had that opportunity to share time with him on the athletic field and also sitting, as we are now, enjoying what we could share together.

Sri Chinmoy: Could you kindly tell me why he did not continue his career? It lasted only for a few years.

Mr. Jordan: It lasted for only a few years after the 1936 Olympic Games. He chose to retire from competition about three or four years after 1936 — to go into public relations and speak. I think in that way he carried his message from the cinder path to the lecturn and was able to impart to young people inspiration and challenges that were extremely valuable to the people he touched, maybe more valuable than we realise.

Teamwork

Sri Chinmoy: In the book you mentioned two or three times that Jesse Owens was doing teamwork. Please tell me what kind of teamwork he was doing.

Mr. Jordan: Well, I think that if you sacrifice personal achievements in order to work with others and help others, you gain more than you lose. And I think unity, or common understanding, and working toward common goals make for better performance. If you work only for yourself, sometimes your performance is not quite so high in standard. So I believe in the teamwork concept. You never cease to be an individual by being part of a team or part of a group; you just get stronger. Your individuality becomes more dominant and your personal performance improves. At the same time, by giving and sharing and even taking within a group of people, you make everyone else stronger as well. I have felt this very much in my life. I was talking a moment ago with one of your group. I said I feel that commitment is so important because until there is a commitment, nothing happens — you just wait for things but they never come. If you want something to happen, you have to commit yourself to it. You have to decide in yourself to give your time to it, work at it and do your work as best you can. If you have the commitment and are willing to work, then you are willing to set goals. When goals and dreams are put out in front of you, then things can happen in your life. You reach, you strive, you step higher, you share more, you ask more and you give more. Then, lastly, with that comes humility. You understand that all of this is only possible because you were able to commit yourself: you were able to work at what you believed in and you had the ability to set dreams and goals out in front of yourself and others. So you have to become humble and you have to say thanks and appreciate other people. This is generally what I feel we have in sports. We have it in poetry. We have it in art. We have it in writing. It is a very spiritual thing too, as you well know. Nothing happens if you separate those things.

Sri Chinmoy: I always say that you cannot separate the drop from the ocean. Individuality is the drop. If the drop enters into the ocean, it does not lose its individuality; it just expands so much that it becomes the ocean itself. You are a great athlete. Once upon a time I also tried to be an athlete. But the difference between what I was and what you are is like the difference between a tiny flame and the living sun. Today the flame is entering into the sun. By mixing with you, talking with you, I am not losing my own identity or individuality. On the contrary, on the strength of my oneness, I am becoming part and parcel of your reality.

Mr. Jordan: So true. I think we are together in our fundamental belief about what goes on between people when they do work together. It's very fundamental and very exciting. It's a thrilling thing to see people create together, share together and feel things together. It's an exciting thing to me.

Back in athletics

Sri Chinmoy: After so many years you have come back to athletics. There was a big gap.

Mr. Jordan: Yes, I was somewhat like Jesse Owens. At the peak of my career I went into my profession, to work for others in a sport that I loved. I felt it would be selfish of me to continue doing what I did just because I wanted to do it. I wanted to impart what I felt was good about my sport to other people. I spent thirty or forty years doing that, which was very satisfying. Then one day I was asked, "Why don't you come and run too?" At first I said, "Well, I think it might interfere," but later I became convinced that it wouldn't. So after thirty years I started again. I found that the joys of participation, the challenges of competition and the different kinds of activity were exciting, rewarding and fulfilling. So I started again and found that I had not lost the courage, the desire or the ability to put things together as I once did in my youth. I've said sometimes jokingly, "Youth isn't the only vital thing in the world. Older people should be dynamic too, because when we lose that, we lose a lot of the things that are very, very much a part of being alive in this big world of ours." So my participation has been part of a growth, a realisation that perhaps I can give something again as an athlete, at age sixty-five, that maybe someone at age twenty-one can't give, because I've had the experience and perhaps I have a little more wisdom. There are many things I don't know yet, but I'm not too old to team. And I do feel it has been a worthwhile venture for me. I've enjoyed it. I've been thrilled and rewarded and fulfilled.

Sri Chinmoy: In your case, age has surrendered to you. As wisdom has been increasing, even so age has been surrendering to you. After thirty years to come back to the track is a rare achievement. Nobody has done it. Nobody, after thirty years, has broken the kinds of records that you have broken. Will you be participating next year in the Masters Olympics that will be held in Puerto Rico?

Mr. Jordan: I probably will compete in most of the coming meets this year, but I don't know exactly which ones I will be at. Some personal things involving family and some things involving business will probably preclude my being in every one I would like to be in. But I hope to be in almost all of them. I'll be in the Western Regional Championships this next weekend. I'm supposed to go to Eugene, Oregon, for an invitational meet two weeks from now. Then probably the national championships in Los Angeles in July. The international Masters Games will be next.

Sri Chinmoy: I'll be so happy to see you there. They have invited me to open the starting ceremonies. I will meditate for five minutes there before it starts.

Mr. Jordan: Wonderful! That will be a great inspiration, a great help. I'm thrilled to hear that.

Sri Chinmoy: Two years ago when they held the Pan American Masters Games, they invited me to begin it with a meditation. Now this time it is an international competition.

Mr. Jordan: I think this will be a very impressive moment for everybody and it will be a wonderful thing to be a part of.

Sri Chinmoy: I have quite a few students in Puerto Rico, and I would be very happy and honoured if there is any service that my students and I can offer. I'm sure some of my American students will also be there to watch the Olympics, so I would be extremely happy and honoured if I could be of any service to you.

Mr. Jordan: Thank you. I appreciate that. You are here for the marathon this week. Are you going to run? No? You are just going to inspire them. You've run a lot of marathons lately, so I thought maybe you'd plan to run again, but you are going to inspire them this time.

Sprinting

Sri Chinmoy: When I started my career as a runner, it was as a sprinter. But there is such a difference between your speed and my speed.

Mr. Jordan: That's all relative.

Sri Chinmoy: Is it not true that your best time for 100 metres is ten seconds?

Mr. Jordan: 10.2 for 100 metres, but not any more.

Sri Chinmoy: Jesse Owens' best was also 10.2.

Mr. Jordan: Yes. In fact, his record was the record that I equalled when I ran 10.2.

Sri Chinmoy: Could you kindly tell me your best timing for 200 metres?

Mr. Jordan: My best for 200 metres is 20.5, which is not as good by world-class standards. But when I did it, it was close to the record, which was in the neighbourhood of 20.4, I believe. I really don't watch the records as much as I watch the competition with people. The challenges and the records take care of themselves.

Champions in the making

Sri Chinmoy: In your book Champions in the Making, you have said nothing about your personal achievements. You have written all about your friends, colleagues and competitors. You speak about Jesse Owens, Metcalfe and others, but you don't say anything about your own achievements.

Mr. Jordan: There's not much to say about me, but there's a lot to say about them. They are the ones who have done so much. They've been the inspiration; they've been the great athletes. I get more fun out of talking about people that I like and people who have done something than I get out of talking about myself. It's fun to discuss my philosophy if that philosophy can help other people. I was chatting with some of your students before you came, and I tried to express my feeling about people who are winners. Sometimes the world looks upon the first-place man as the only winner; yet everybody who takes part is the winner.

Sri Chinmoy: Who made him the winner? Just because all the rest of us lost, he became the winner. If he had run all by himself, then nobody would have appreciated him. So many times people have run on their own and broken records, but nobody believes it. Nobody believes that you have broken a record when you run alone.

Mr. Jordan: That's right. My feeling is that the winner can come from any level — first, second, third, fourth, fifth or very last — providing he sets goals, works hard, achieves a new pinnacle in his life and just takes part to the best of his ability. This is a winner, and to just worship at the shrine of number one is a mistake because everyone is a part of the process. If there weren't a lot of people there, there couldn't be a winner. If you were all by yourself, you couldn't place first. You've got to have other people. So everyone plays a part in making the winner a winner. We all take part. We all have a piece of the action. We all do something and we all contribute and share.

Long jump and hurdles

Sri Chinmoy: I would be very interested to know if you did the long jump.

Mr. Jordan: I did the long jump, but I wasn't what you would call a sensation. I went 24' 11". That's not very good, but it was good enough for what I was attempting to do. I just wanted to see if I could jump. But I preferred running, so I spent most of my energy in the running area.

Sri Chinmoy: Did you also do some hurdles?

Mr. Jordan: Yes, I did some hurdles. In fact, early in my collegiate career I did some decathlon also. I enjoyed the ten events. I wasn't too active in it because I really was more specialized in the sprinting area. At that moment in my life I was greatly inspired to perform well in sprinting. My inspiration early on was Charlie Paddock, the world's fastest human. He was a hometown hero to me. He was from my hometown in Pasadena. When he came back from the Olympics, I was a tow-headed kid trying to run, and he came out one day and was watching me. Then he reached over and hit me on the back and said, "Keep trying, kid, and you will be a champion." I never forgot that. And I've been fortunate to have other great people, like Jesse Owens, come into my life. Then there are the athletes I have coached who have been as inspirational to me as the athletes I have run with and against. I've seen a great number of wonderful people and I've learned many lessons from all of them.

Emil Zatopek

Sri Chinmoy: I am sure that you know Emil Zatopek.

Mr. Jordan: Emil Zatopek was a very dear friend. In fact, Bob McMillen — one of my top athletes and one of the top people in the 1952 Olympics — was very close to him. McMillen's finishing position in the 1,500 metres is the highest ever by an American. He and Josef Barthel from Luxembourg finished in a virtual dead heat. They couldn't separate the time, so they both got the world record and the Olympic record at that time. Emil Zatopek and his coach were very interested in our training methods and we shared a great deal of information between us because Bob McMillen had done so well. Emil Zatopek was so great! We were all trying to help each other and learn from each other.

Sri Chinmoy: He is so great and yet so humble. Last year my students in Switzerland invited him to start our marathon there and to give the prizes. He and his wife stayed with us for three days.

Mr. Jordan: He is a delightful man and a wonderful person.

Sri Chinmoy: His wife threw the javelin.

Mr. Jordan: Yes, she was a javelin thrower and a very good javelin thrower, too. What Zatopek did in 1952 was unbelievable. The 5,000-metre, 10,000-metre, and marathon were all held in one week. And he won them all! He scared the world. When they saw him running they couldn't believe that a human being could do that. When he came into the tunnel of the stadium, the crowd rose to their feet and cheered and screamed. He came around the track at the end of the marathon, a three-time Olympic victor. A great feat, one of the first times in history that that had ever happened He was a special person, is a special person, just as was Jesse Owens. All talented people have something special about them. Something they say, something they do, something they are, transcends everything around them, and people feel something very special happening in their lives when they are fortunate enough to share part of it with them.

Ron Clarke

Sri Chinmoy: Could you please tell me if you know Ron Clarke?

Mr. Jordan: Would you believe in 1956 when he carried the torch into the stadium and burned his hand, I was there. I knew him very well as a young runner before he ever became the great distance runner he was and is. Fine man!

Sri Chinmoy: A few months ago he had heart surgery.

Mr. Jordan: He had heart surgery? He was here two years ago and brought his son over to meet me. We visited in my office for quite a period of time. Any time he came into the United States to run, he would come to train with me.

Sri Chinmoy: He has started running again. Two weeks ago he ran seven miles, and while running he was talking to one of my Australian students.

Mr. Jordan: He's the kind of person that this moment of adversity will not stop. He will become stronger for it. He's a wonderful person spiritually and physically, and this momentary setback won't stop him or his contributions to the world.

Sri Chinmoy: He had a little bad luck in the Olympics. He didn't get the gold medal.

Mr. Jordan: No, but he always made the gold medalist pay very dearly for the gold medal. He was there, he was there.

Sri Chinmoy: Zatopek put one of his gold medals in Ron Clarke's suitcase. He went to visit Zatopek and upon his return he looked in his suitcase only to discover one of Zatopek's gold medals.

Mr. Jordan: Isn't that something? That's a great story. Well, that is the kind of person Zatopek was. And Ron Clarke is the same kind of person. He did what he did, but he never refused to give credit to other people. He always was very generous. It's an interesting thing about champions and people of stature like that.

Jesse Owens

Sri Chinmoy: Like Jesse Owens — he started massaging Lang at the Berlin Olympics before his third turn at the long jump. He should have been concentrating on his own jump, but he went and started massaging his rival, Lang.

Mr. Jordan: There again is a point I guess we both have made: great athletes are willing to share even if it costs them a victory. They don't like to see someone else fail, so they help. Maybe they lose in one sense, but they don't lose in the true sense; they gain. Some would never help anyone because they think it would hurt them. But I think that when you feel that way, you are losing something very vital that you really need in your life — the fact that you shared with someone, that you helped someone and they helped you and that you both evolved a greater respect and a greater feeling because of that. The records in sports are filled with stories of this nature. I remember Jesse Owens in a national championship meet. All the sprinters and starters were on the line getting ready to go, and one of my teammates who was in the same race with him broke his shoelace. Jesse Owens was standing at the starting line and he said, "Wait a minute" to the starter, walked across to his bag, pulled out a shoe and pulled the shoelace out and went over and laced the guy's shoe for him before the National Championship, and then proceeded to beat him. That's the kind of man Jesse Owens was: a very, very rare breed. But that's what he was like. He had no doubts in his mind about his ability, and he didn't feel it was going to hurt him to take time for somebody else. Then he went ahead and did what he had planned to do all the time.

Sri Chinmoy: Sometimes he used to compete against horses. He could have easily kept it a secret that the starter used to fire the gun near the horse's ear to frighten the horse and delay his start.

Mr. Jordan: Fire close to the ear, and while the horse rears, you are on your way. I know.

Sri Chinmoy: In his book he mentions it.

Mr. Jordan: I know. Jesse and I talked about that a number of times. I said, "You devil, you!" He said, "Well, I couldn't beat the horse if we didn't make the horse stop for a moment and give me a head start." We had a lot of laughs together. In fact, the last time we saw each other, we spent time together. I had asked him to come here to speak at Stanford at a large banquet that we hold annually for the best athletes of the school. He came and gave a very inspirational speech. That was just shortly before he passed away. At least I had the privilege of being with him at that time and reminiscing with him about our thirty-five years of experiences and friendships and the people we loved and knew in our careers. Now he is gone, but he is still a part of our lives and will always be. We have to be thankful for all the opportunities that are given us by virtue of sport to express ourselves. There are many, many ways to express ourselves; sport isn't the only one. You certainly are one who expounds that thesis about as well as anyone in that you create poetry, art and music as well as run and meditate and do all the things that are important in our life. I admire what you are accomplishing. I compliment you for it.

Honoring athletes

Sri Chinmoy: Thank you. Please tell me why it is that Americans do not honour their heroes while they are alive. Americans admire heroes, but why do they not admire them much while they are alive? It was understandable that Hitler did not honour Jesse Owens or even shake hands with him. The world knows Hitler's nature. But when Jesse Owens came back to America, how is it that he did not get due honour? When first he came to New York, the Mayor did not see him and did not give him due honour. Was it just because he was black or was it something else?

Mr. Jordan: I don't know. They did give him a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in New York, and he was honoured in his hometown. But they probably didn't do as much as they should have done. I'm only one person, and I don't know why. I would love to see each person who does something worthy be given tribute commensurate with his accomplishment. Sometimes what you are speaks louder than tributes or words, and I, like you, have often wondered why they wait until someone is dead before he's honoured. I was just given the honour of being inducted into the Hall of Fame here recently, and someone said, "Well, how do you feel?" I said two things: "I'm thrilled, but more than that I'm happy to have it happen while I am alive and can enjoy it and my family and friends can enjoy it with me." I think that is what we all talk about. You don't really get awards for yourself. Awards are given to you, but so many other people are important and so many other people have played a part in it that most of the fun is that you can share it. And when you are gone, you can't share it. So my question is the same as yours: "Why do they wait?"

Sri Chinmoy: In Finland they do it. Paavo Nurmi was honoured while he was alive. A statue of him was made, which I saw at the Helsinki stadium. Lasse Viren has also been honoured while he is alive; I saw a statue of him in a museum. They honour their living heroes.

Mr. Jordan: Right. I admire Paavo Nurmi greatly. In fact, I spoke with him at great length when I was in Finland in 1952. I went to his tie shop and we spent time in the back room discussing tours he had made in America prior to his retirement. He ran the torch into the stadium in 1952. I looked out there and saw those beautiful, powerful legs although he was in his sixties. Absolutely inspiring I thought to myself, "Isn't that a beautiful thing. Here he is in his own country, but people from all over the world are witnessing this and are just thrilled to death." That's an honour that few people get, but it's an honour well deserved and an honour that I think would strike the feeling of all people all over the world. And I, like you, feel that while we are here we should smell the fragrance in the air and see the beauty in the flowers, in the scenery, the trees, the lakes, the mountains, the deserts — drink in the beauties and enjoy them. And what you are able to do, do as well as you can and enjoy doing it. I guess that is why you do what you do and why I do what I do — because we feel like expressing what we feel. Rather than just sitting on it and thinking about it, share it and enjoy it. That's life. And as long as I'm here, I hope I can be vital. Vitality isn't for youth only. Vitality is for everyone, and we should all take part in it and enjoy it.

Sri Chinmoy: There is an inexhaustible supply of energy. If we can be open to it, if we can be receptive, that energy is always at our disposal.

Mr. Jordan: That's so true. When you quit accepting new energy from other sources, other people, you are ready to be put away.

Conclusion

Sri Chinmoy: May I offer you this pamphlet? It contains the interview I had with Jesse Owens when I went to visit him in his New York hotel.

Mr. Jordan: Thank you very, very much for this. This is beautiful. I'll treasure it. Jesse Owens was one of the greats of all times, not only as an athlete but also as a man — a true champion, a true champion! Thank you very, very much.

Sri Chinmoy: And it is my honour to offer you this trophy as well. As I said before, as an athlete I am just a tiny flame, a feeble flame, and you are like the sun. So the flame is offering something to the sun and becoming inseparably one with the sun.

Mr. Jordan: Thank you very, very much. Thank you so much. That's beautiful. I really appreciate that. What a beautiful, beautiful trophy. I shall share this with everybody — with my wife, my children, my grandchildren and all my treasured friends. I do appreciate that very much.

Sri Chinmoy: I have composed a song about you that my students would like to sing.

(Singers sing the song dedicated to Payton Jordan)

Mr. Jordan: Thank you very, very, very much. Thank you. That was lovely, beautiful. What can I say? It is awfully nice of you to take the time to do something so thoughtful and so kind. It's a beautiful award, a beautiful thought and a beautiful song. As you say, you don't retire: you just step in another direction and do new, exciting things, face new challenges and new opportunities. That's what I plan to do. This is a special moment. On Tuesday I retired after forty-one years of actively coaching, and now I have a few years when I'm going to do some things on my own time, go off in directions of my own interest, share more with people that I enjoy being with and enjoy the world around me.

Sri Chinmoy: You are a river flowing continuously and carrying all those who want to swim towards the sea. All the champions in the making that you are teaching are swimming in the river, and you are carrying them to the sea.

Mr. Jordan: Thank you, thank you. You speak of champions in the making. But everybody that does anything is a champion. And when they can feel proud of what they do, that's the most important thing in our teaching.

Sri Chinmoy: Your self-giving is making everybody rich, richer and richest.

Mr. Jordan: I don't do much, but I get richer every day by things other people do around me. So I share everything and I enjoy everything. Thank you so much. It's been a special day. I do hope you will come back again.

Sri Chinmoy: I am deeply moved by your invitation, and I am looking forward to seeing you in Puerto Rico.

Mr. Jordan: I will plan to be there if everything goes right. Thank you so much.

Part II — Comments and suggestions by Payton Jordan

Comments and suggestions on Sri Chinmoy's running by Payton Jordan[fn:: SCH 12. Sri Chinmoy often watched videotapes of Payton Jordan's recent races in order to draw deep inspiration and to learn from his style and speed. Here are excerpts from a videotaped demonstration which Mr. Jordan was kind enough to make for Sri Chinmoy on 1 March 1983 in Los Altos, California./

Your leg speed is outstanding. The problem as I see it is that you have some weakness in the abdominal region, so you will need some situp exercises and lots of flexibility and stretching exercises for the lower back. Earlier today I did some exercises — one in particular — for the lower back which will be most helpful to you.

I also noted the left arm; your arm swing is out of synch with your right arm. The right arm is coming up and back in good rhythm. But the left arm is coming up short and flying out to the side, which cuts down on the rhythm between the arm swing on your right and left side. That, in turn, slows some of the leg swing and the speed in the legs. So if you work on the abdominal region and flexibility in your lower back, I think you will increase your speed because you will be in a better body position — more forward. Also, you must correct that left arm and get it in synch with the right arm. I feel that will increase your stride and also the quickness of your stride.

Let me demonstrate a couple of points that will emphasise what I am saying. When you are running, you are leaning back like this, which takes away from your stride length. What you really want is to get more forward in this position, so that your stride length can be enhanced or increased. Also, this left arm which is going this way (cutting across the body) should come in this way. And the right arm should be a little higher — not quite so low. This will help you get better knee lift, which in turn will produce better stride length.

We want to work on body lean, we want to work on the left arm in rhythm with the right arm. We want to keep that good lean position so that we can increase the stride length and also leave you with a better driving position all the time. If you are leaning back here, it is very hard to stride. You are really pulling your way along. That doesn't give you the kind of drive for speed or the kind of drive needed to get leg stretch or stride length. So we're going to work on "chest up, chin in, shoulders back" and also nice arm rhythm. We're going to work on trying to keep the abdominals tight by your exercises and the lower back relaxed by doing the exercises I demonstrated earlier in the film. If we do that lower back stretch or yoga posture, we can get the stride length. If we get the stride length, then we can increase your speed. Three things are important, three things: more strength with flexibility along with it, more quickness and longer stride. If you do these things, then you will get faster. You have the leg speed. There is no question in my mind that you can drop the 100-metre time from where you are now to the 12 or 13 second area. You must work on these things.

For example, for the abdominal region, let me give you a situp exercise that will help. I do them in the front room or anywhere I can get my foot under something. Your knees are apart because that avoids a strain on the back, and your knees are bent. Your back is straight and your hands are behind your head. You only go up 30 degrees and down, but no rest. Up-down, up-down, up-down, up-down. You should consider doing 50 of these twice a day: once in the morning and once at night.

Now for the stretch that we talked about earlier in the film. Let me just do it once for you so you can get the picture. You stretch one leg out front and put the other leg alongside the knee with the foot flat against it. You put your hand on the inside of the bent foot and put your other hand straight behind you and twist as far to the side as you can. Then reverse that position and do it with the other leg. This, by the way, is a half spine twist, an Indian yoga posture, which you should probably well remember, but may have forgotten. That will help relieve that low back pain you have and help stretch your low back in such a way that you can get more flexibility and freedom of leg swing. That, in connection with the front exercise you did with the situps, should greatly enhance your ability to move with more forward body in your running action. If your body lean is in about this position (leans forward), you will be able to increase your stride three to four inches and, over a distance of a hundred yards, you know that means a faster time.

Along with these things, some pullups or chinups and pushups will greatly increase your shoulder strength so that when you run, you will be able to get that strong rhythm with your right and left arm. We'll correct that left arm that does this all the time (swings across the body). We'll get it to stay right in the same line of flight as the right arm. Relax your face, put your shoulders back and keep a nice, smooth, coordinated swing. That should help your speed. I think that those exercises from the film that we send should be a great help to you also.

More suggestions

Mr. Payton Jordan offered the following advice at the University of California-Berkeley Masters Track Meet on 3 June 1983.

[About coping with back pain]

Like Sri Chinmoy, I too have to cope with severe back pain in my running. Some days it hurts so much I can hardly take the starting position. In fact, that is one of the reasons why I stand up too soon at the start of a race. When I'm down in the starting blocks, all the muscles that are working are pinched. As soon as the pain begins, I come right up. My back hurts while I'm coming up from the blocks, but once I straighten up, I'm all right.

This pain is something I have to live with, but I do try to get some relief from it. One thing that helps to reduce inflammation is aspirin. I don't want to take it all the time because it's hard on the stomach. So if you are going to take aspirin more than twice a day, you should take it with milk. Another thing that helps back pain considerably is soaking in a hot bath.

There are also several excellent stretches that I will show you. With the stretches you are counteracting all the tension that you acquire every day while sitting and standing. When you stretch, it releases the tension that you have in your back. Initially it may hurt when you do the stretches, but eventually the muscles loosen up and you don't feel the pain so much. The stretches also increase your pain threshold so that when you do take the starting position, the pain isn't enough to bother you. It's like pressing on a nerve that's sore. Pretty soon you can endure the pain. Then, when you let up, the original pain seems much less. In this way these exercises relax your muscles.

The main problem with the lower back is that many things that we do daily — such as sitting at a desk or riding in a car or an airplane — prevent us from relaxing and eliminating stress in that area. Basically what you are trying to do is use the opposite set of back muscles to release the tension. Once you do that, the hot bath and aspirin will also help.

Before coming here this morning, for example, I took a hot shower and also two aspirin. When I got here and started warming up, the adrenalin started flowing and I didn't feel the pain as much. I may feel it again after I'm through, but when the adrenalin flows, a lot of the pain goes away.

I understand that Sri Chinmoy has the same kind of back problem that I have. Two of the bones in the lower back are fused together. It's a fairly common problem that you just have to work around. You could have an operation, but you don't want an operation if you want to continue running. If you keep your muscles in shape, you avoid the necessity of having to undergo surgery.

So these are the things I would suggest: hot baths, some aspirin, stretching and whatever strengthening exercises you can do without hurting the back. Sri Chinmoy should do running, sit-ups and any kind of bending and twisting in a position that doesn't put great stress on the back. In this way he can recover from the pain and be a better runner despite it. Of course, the back doesn't correct itself totally, but you can do quite a lot to lessen the pain. The aspirin relieves the irritation and inflammation, and the heat relaxes the tension in the muscles, which cause the pressure on the nerves. Once you can do that, you can do your stretching. All these things should help.

[About concentration in running]

I find it's very important to have a little time before a race to focus your concentration. If you are distracted by different people or start thinking about something else, you lose your concentration. Some people cannot hold their concentration under stress. They can't block out all the extraneous thoughts and outer distractions to enter into a state of concentration. But before you compete or before you do anything, you need time to concentrate. I know it's hard for some people to understand. Yet anyone who competes or performs knows that there is a time beforehand when you have to stop and prepare inwardly. Performing well is not something that happens by mistake. If you watch opera singers or actors, for example, they become an island unto themselves before performing. You have to push everything aside and totally enter silent concentration so you can plan what you are going to do. You must plan ahead and use your concentration to make things happen. You can't always make them happen the way you want, but you can definitely come closer. You don't want to throw anything away by careless preparation before the race. You want to focus on the reason you spent the time-the long hours and the months-to be there. You throw too much time and too much training away if you don't watch yourself. You can't just suddenly perform without planning it out in your mind beforehand. You sense what's going to happen. You visualise the race and almost know how it will turn out.

So when it's time to collect myself before a race, I stop talking to others, even at the risk of seeming impolite. You can't just totally withdraw into a shell and never say hello to anyone all the time, but there are times when you have to concentrate.

Then during the race you are aware of everything around you, but you don't focus on anything except what you are doing. Focus and concentration really help you.

Increasing stride length1

At the beginning of a sprint, your first strides are always shorter. There is no way to plan how long they are. But the better shape you are in, the longer your stride will be. Generally, you develop a longer stride by becoming more flexible through stretching. Strength and flexibility always go together. But you have to know that your stride length can't keep getting longer. Eventually you reach your maximum stride length. But you can only reach that point by getting yourself in better shape, becoming stronger and more flexible. Your own strides should be between 6'6" and 6'8" long in general. My own strides are between 7' and 7'2". They used to be 7'8". But you should try to have a stride of 6'6" to 6'8".

What you should do is measure your stride length 20 to 40 yards into your sprint because in the first 20 yards you are working too hard just to get going and at the end you are too tired. Your ultimate stride should be between 6' and 6'6". Of course, if you are stiff, you will never be able to do it, and it will be like hopping. If you aren't flexible, you can't reach this kind of stride. But right now you shouldn't focus on your stride, because that will only discourage you. In my last race my stride at the end was only 5'5" or 5'6" because I was tired. In the middle of the race my stride was only 6'6". in fact, this whole year I haven't reached a seven-foot stride.

The most important thing to think about is pushing off the ground with the back foot. You have to get tremendous strength off the back foot. The stride is only secondary. If you think too much about your stride, it will upset your sprinting. Just think about pushing off your back foot, and concentrate on fast turnover during the race. You definitely have the sprinting speed you need, but you need to work on getting more flexible and strong — mostly on getting more flexible. On the last videotape they took of me, I was showing you how to work on that flexibility and get your knees up. In my last race my stride was a lot smaller because my knees were dropping. You have to keep your knees up to get good stride length. In my case, I don't concentrate on stride at all — but just on getting a fast turnover of the feet. You also should concentrate on developing a powerful pushing action. That will make you fast. The more ground you cover, the faster you go. You should hit the ground strong, pull your legs up and concentrate on the pushing action of the arms.

Keep up your courage in your practice. You will do well. I just know it.


  1. SCH 14. On 9 July 1983 Payton Jordan gave over the phone the following instructions on how Sri Chinmoy could increase his stride length.

Head Coach

Head Coach, Head Coach, Head Coach,
A heart-to-heart approach!
You do and say and say and do.
Your wisdom-sun knows no Waterloo.
Your Champions in the Making,
A diamond-treasure, all-enriching.

About Payton Jordan

Payton Jordan is that rare combination of doer and teacher, a record-breaking runner and a great coach whose inspirational teachings and knowledge have helped countless athletes bring out the best in themselves. Equally significant, Payton Jordan is a man who has proved the mastery of spirit over body by returning to competition after 30 years of teaching to stretch man's very conception of speed.

One of the top-ranked sprinters of his time, his dreams of Olympic immortality were interrupted when World War II cancelled the 1940 Games, but he showed his greatness two years later by defeating Harold Davis, then considered the world's fastest man.

Payton Jordan has consecrated most of his life to coaching, serving as head coach on U.S. Olympic teams and various international teams in World Game meets. He also was the highly revered coach at Stanford University.

During his early sprinting career, his best times were 10.2 seconds (unofficial) and 10.3 (official) for 100 metres and 20.5 for 200 metres in the 1930's. He also set the world record in the 440-yard relay in 1938 with a time of 40.5. In the late 1970's Payton Jordan began competitive racing again setting many new masters records. Following is a list of his current records:

The Athletics Congress of the United States Masters track and field

Race Division Mark Age Meet date
100 yards 60-64 10.9 61 6 May 1978
100 metres 60-64 11.8 61 27 May 1978
100 metres 65-69 12.6 65 12 June 1982
200 metres 60-64 24.9 60 19 June 1977
200 metres 65-69 26.0 65 12 June 1982

Part III — Comments on Payton Jordan by sportswriters

Payton Jordan is one of those sunshine guys

"Payton Jordan is one of those sunshine guys, always positive, who reflect the spirit of the champion."

Cliff Gewecke

Signal Sports

13 June 1972

At the age of 55

"… At the age of 55, he [began] running in Masters events, … and he has been running ever since…. In 10 years Payton has lost only one race while becoming the darling of the geriatric set. That one setback occurred in a special sprint during halftime at an Oregon-Stanford football game, after Jordan pulled a leg muscle while warming up. He holds virtually every world record for sprinting events in all Masters age groups….

"If the pro football scouts didn't check birth certificates, they'd sign him up as a defensive backfield prospect, or maybe a wide receiver. Members of those species in the National Football League are considered super-fast if they can run 40 yards in 4.5 seconds. Payton at 65 is in that class without drawing a deep breath."

Murray Olderman

Newspaper Enterprise Association

Daily Facts

Redlarlds, Calif.

5 May 1982

Payton Jordan finally is getting what he deserves

"Payton Jordan finally is getting what he deserves. Within the next few weeks 'Payt' officially will retire from Stanford University and also be inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame…. One of the most popular men in the sport's history, Jordan already is enshrined in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and the Helms Athletic Foundation Halls of Fame….

"… Making a deep niche in history, Jordan has set 26 age-group world records and lost only one sprint race since becoming a 55-year-old."

Don Bloom

The Sacramento Union

9 May 1982

He was the head coach of the 1968 U.S. Olympic team

"He was the head coach of the 1968 U.S. Olympic team [in Mexico] that won more Olympic medals and established more records than any other team in history. He was an assistant coach at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and was voted track coach of the year in 1966. And he was meet director for two of the most successful track and field events in U.S. history — the 1960 Olympic Trials and 1962 U.S.-Soviet Union dual meet, both at Stanford Stadium."

Keith Peters

Times Tribune

May 1982

Editor's note to first edition

Cover photo: This photograph of 21-year-old Payton Jordan appeared on the cover of Life magazine on 19 June 1983, calling Jordan the "captain of champions" in his position as co-captain of the University of Southern California track and field team, which had recently won the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America meet.