He Hasn't Lost Since 1977, but Hurdler Edwin Moses Is Still Stretching the Limits of Success
07/23/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT
A vision came to Edwin Moses during his sleep on an August night a year ago in Koblenz, West Germany. Moses, the premier long-distance hurdler in the world, dreamed the numbers 8-31-83 and then—over and over—the numbers 47.03. When he awoke he routinely prepared for his race that day.
The meaning of those numbers soon became clear. The day was Aug. 31, 1983—his 28th birthday. And that afternoon he blazed a new world record in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 47.02, beating not only his dream time, but also his 1980 world record of 48.13. "I don't often dream about those things," says the 6'2", 165-pound Moses. "But I felt I was going to run a world record."
Moses, a self-described loner, has dominated the 400-meter hurdles for nearly eight years and may well continue to do so until the 1988 Olympics. He won a gold medal at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, and the last race he lost was in August 1977. Since then he has strung together 89 consecutive victories. After breezing through the Olympic Trials last month, he is an almost sure bet for a gold medal. "I studied physics in college and used what I learned in terms of dynamics and mechanics to help me with technique, to break down the motion of my body," he explains. Moses' winning formula has become something of a legend: He takes 13 perfect strides between each of the ten 36-inch hurdles for the entire race. His competitors may start out with 13 steps but by the final hundred yards are slowed by mortal fatigue.
Once perceived as sullen and difficult by the press, Moses is today well liked and respected by other U.S. competitors, for whom he has been a frequent spokesman in disputes with the power brokers in amateur athletics. In 1980 he openly challenged the hypocrisy of rules that prohibited amateurs from accepting money for competing and endorsements. "Everybody used to line up in the back room after the meet and the promoter would pay out cash," Moses notes. "There were a lot of people making money, and it wasn't the U.S. athletes." Joined by high jumper Dwight Stones, Moses lobbied the International Amateur Athletic Federation hard for the rule changes eventually enacted in 1981 that allowed athletes to keep endorsement fees and winnings in a trust fund. They can draw from the fund for certain expenses, leaving the bulk for when they leave amateur athletics.
Moses, like the other athletes, has benefited handsomely from those changes. In 1976 he nearly went broke training for Montreal and even had to beg gas money from meet promoters. Now he drives a 1983 Mercedes-Benz with the license plate OLYMPIAN. He commands up to $20,000 per appearance—supplemented by lucrative endorsements for Kappa apparel, Adidas and Kodak—and he and long jumper Carl Lewis are considered the two highest-paid track athletes in the world. He also has formed Edwin Moses Enterprises, which had a reported income of $457,500 for 1983, and he employs a coach and engineers who analyze his movements on computers. "Track and field has become a business for me," concedes Moses.
Once upon a time it was still a sport to him, although athletics played second string to academics. When he was growing up in Dayton, Ohio, his father, Irving, an elementary school principal, and his mother, Gladys, a curriculum adviser to the city school system, stressed schoolwork to their three athletic sons. "They let us play if we had good grades," says Moses. He competed in the long jump at Dayton High School but clearly was more interested in launching homemade rockets and dissecting frogs. "I had no ambitions to be an Olympic track star or any kind of athlete," says Moses.
He won a scholarship to Morehouse State College in Atlanta, Ga., a school that had a track team but, alas, no track. Still, he competed for two years in the 400 meters and 110-meter high hurdles before graduating in 1978 with a degree in physics and engineering. Despite his adequate speed in sprints, he thought he'd have a better chance to make the U.S. team in the 400-meter hurdles in 1976. "Let's put it this way," he says, joking, "it's not an event you have guys volunteering for. The 400 is tough enough, but when you're running hurdles, it's that much tougher."
Moses' social life at the time was not record-breaking, but that changed in August 1980 when he met his future wife in Berlin, where he was competing. Married on Memorial Day in 1982, he and German-born Myrella Bordt, a 24-year-old artist, now share a remodeled two-bedroom condominium in Laguna Hills, Calif. "His job is to run, and I do everything else," she says, laughing. Moses is planning ambitiously for the future, and not surprisingly that vision includes more numbers, just like the ones he dreamed about last August. He wants to break 47 seconds for the first time and perhaps subtract another stride during the middle hurdles. "I've done 12 before, so I know I can do it," he says. When asked what his competitors think about the possibility of Edwin Moses taking even fewer steps on his way to the finish line, he smiles slowly. "They say, 'Hey, give us a break.' "