Moses, Edwin 1955–

views updated May 23 2018

Edwin Moses 1955

World class track-and-field athlete

At a Glance

A Talent for Academics, Not Athletics

Public Recognition, Public Pressure

Twilight of a Legend


Edwin Mosess athletic achievement is extraordinary by any standards. For nearly a decade between 1977 and 1987 he completely dominated the 400-meter intermediate hurdlesa grueling event that requires its participants to leap ten hurdles in a quarter mile race. Moses owned one of modern sports most celebrated streaks in this event, at one point compiling 107 consecutive victories. Most athletes retire from the hurdles after two or three years of world-class competition. Moses ran races until well into his thirties, and having won gold medals at the 1976 and 1984 Olympic Games even tried to make a comeback in 1992. As Frank Deford noted in Sports illustrated, Moses in his heyday during the 1980s was not only a hero to the world, but also, within his own subculture, an adviser, a spokesman, a counselor, a mediator, a diplomat. No athlete in any sport is so respected by his peers as Moses is in track and field.

An introspective and solitary man, Moses was often misunderstood by the legions of reporters and fans who followed his career. He preferred to train aloneoften without the benefit of a coachand used lessons from his college degree in physics to perfect his running and leaping techniques. His winning formula of a standard thirteen strides between each hurdle has become the stuff of legend among track-and-field athletes, and as of 1994, his time of 47.02 in the 400-meter hurdles is the world record for the event. All of this achievement exacted an enormous price in terms of physical wear-and-tear. Moses, who was at one time among the best-paid track competitors in the world, told Sports Illustrated: People see the star life. They say, Youre lucky. All you have to do is run. I laugh and say lets compare. If you were a lawyer, youd have to be on the Supreme Court to be equal in performance. Competition is fierce everywhere.

Moses was born on August 31, 1955, in Dayton, Ohio. Growing up in Dayton, Moses never dreamed of becoming an Olympic track star. His parents, Irving and Gladys Moses, were both educatorshis father an elementary school principal, his mother a curriculum supervisor for the citys public schools. Needless to say, Moses grew up in an environment where academics were stressed. Sports were secondary, a treat to be savored if good grades were maintained.

As a high school student, Moses chose to be transported by bus to Fairview High School, where he was one of some 20 blacks in an enrollment of 800. He was an excellent scholar who took summer school courses in science and math for extra credit. I was always the guy kids came to for help, he recalled in Sports Illustrated. Mosess small sizeonly five-foot-eight and 135 pounds as a seniormitigated against his playing football and basketball. Instead he tried out for the track team. He was serious enough about his chosen sport to want to win, but he still considered track-and-field a hobby, like playing the saxophone.

At a Glance

Born August 31, 1955, in Dayton, OH; son of Irving (an educator) and Gladys (an educator) Moses; married Myrella Bordt (an artist), 1982. Education: Morehouse University, B.S., 1976; has also earned a BA in business and an M.B A

Track-and-field athlete, 1976-92, speciality the 400-meter intermediate hurdles; U.S. Olympic Track Team, member, 1976, 1984; won gold medals on both occasions; world championship winner, 1977, 1987; holder of world record in 400 meter hurdles, 1983. Bobsledder, 1989-91.

Selected awards: Sullivan Award for best amateur athlete in the United States, 1983; named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated 1984.

Memberships: United States Olympic Committees substance abuse committee, 1989.

Addresses: Office c/o United States Olympic Committee, 1750 E. Boulder St, Colorado Springs, CO 80909.

A Talent for Academics, Not Athletics

Moses won an academic scholarship to Morehouse University in Atlanta, Georgia. There he majored in physics and continued to indulge in his hobby of running in hurdling races. Ironically, while Morehouse had a track team, it did not have a track. Moses worked out with a part-time coach, the Rev. Lloyd Jackson, and a friend, Steven Price. Athletes arent privileged at Morehouse, Moses told Sports Illustrated. As late as 1975 he was still setting modest goals for himself in sportsfar more important was the 3.5 average he was maintaining in his classes. By Christmas of that year, however, he began to formulate new plans, including a possible trip to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Quebec.

Something else happened to Moses at Morehouse. His legs grew longer while his weight remained trim; suddenly he was six-foot-two and 165 pounds. At his new height he seemed to skim the intermediate hurdles effortlessly, and his long legs allowed him to take fewer strides between each hurdle. When he began to build his endurance, the stage was set for Olympic qualification. Moses served notice, so to speak, at the 1976 Rorida Relays in Gainesville. He did not win any of the hurdles races he entered there, but his performance captured the attention of the U. S. Olympic track-and-field coach, Leroy Walker. Anybody who knew anything about hurdling could see that if they were pointing this guy to something other than the 400 intermediates, they had the wrong race, Walker told Sports Illustrated. His size and speed; his base, the ability to carry the stride; his skim, what we call the measurement of the stride over the hurdlehe had it all. It was obvious nobody would handle him in Montreal. I went to Europe and told them: Youre all running for second.

Moses worked with Walker through the spring of 1976 and indeed qualified for the U. S. Olympic team that summer. At the Olympic Games in Montreal he took the gold medal in the 400-meter intermediates with a new world record time of 47.63 seconds. Sports Illustrated correspondent Curry Kirkpatrick noted that the medal-winning performance was the beginning of track and fields most phenomenal streak. It was also the beginning of a love-hate relationship between Moses and the media. Moses wore sunglasses all the time outdoorsthey were prescription lenses that he needed in order to see the hurdles. Because he wore them, however, he was perceived as aloof or even hostile to reporters. I know it was difficult to relate to me back then, Moses told Sports Illustrated. I was black, studying physics and engineering. I was from a small school nobody ever heard of. A guy who took up this race and four months later won the gold medal. And I had predicted it. All this was a fantasy. Then the sunglasses. And they wanted to make me more of a fantasy. But did anybody stop to ask if the sunglasses were prescription? My eyes have been sensitive to light since the fifth grade.

The public remained cool to Moses as he embarked on a series of international track-and-field events. In September of 1977 he began an unbeaten streak that would last nine years, nine months, and nine days when he took the World Cup 400-meter hurdles in 47.58 seconds. For the next four years, the only person competing on Mosess level seemed to be Moses himself. He broke his own world record again in 1980, with a 47.13 time in a race in Milan. Three years later he set another world record at Koblenz, in West Germany, when he ran the hurdles in 47.02 seconds.

Public Recognition, Public Pressure

Moses was one of many athletes who were bitterly disappointed when president Jimmy Carter announced an American boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games. Then at the very peak of his career, Moses seems certain to have won another gold medal in the hurdles during those games. As his unbeaten streak lengthened, and he became a bona fide celebrity in Europe and America, Moses turned his attentions to the business side of the sport. He effectively challenged the cartels of event promoters who had banded together to keep appearance fees artificially low. He also lobbied for the rights of amateur athletes to receive above-board remuneration for their services on a variety of fronts. As his fame grew, Moses supplemented his income with product endorsements and other activities that brought him an estimated $500,000 each year. For some years in the 1980s, he was the best-paid track star in the world.

With the help of his wife, Myrella, Moses also improved his public image. He was sought as a spokesman against the use of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, and he was accorded the honor of reciting the Olympic oath at the beginning of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, California. It was remarkable that Moses qualified for the 1984 Olympic team in an event that requires youth and stamina, but it was even more amazing that he kept his streak going in the Olympics, winning his second gold medal. Honors bestowed upon him during the period included the 1983 Sullivan Award for best American amateur athlete, and a sportsman of the year citation in 1984 from Sports Illustrated. Of Mosess 1984 Olympic performance, Frank Deford wrote: Edwin Moses managed not only to win, but also to win our affection. Hes the ultimate specialist, taking one arcane event, the 400-meter hurdles, and refining it, redefining it, crystallizing it, to the point where the race is now one with the man.

Winning brought its own set of problems, however. As his streak grew toward 100 consecutive wins, Moses told Sports Illustrated: Being this good is a dilemma. Its almost as if Ive painted myself into a circle. So much winning. The irony is that it seems as if the final chapter must be that I lose. Indeed, by 1985 some younger hurdlers were suggesting that Moses chose his races carefully, in order to avoid competitors who might beat him. In a rare fit of pique, Moses answered these charges in Esquire by saying: Look at the skeletons Ive left behind. Ive been through generations of hurdlers. Ill be retiring a few more before Im done.

To make matters worse, Moses endured much adverse publicity when he was arrested on charges of soliciting a prostitute in Los Angeles in 1985. Subsequently acquitted in a jury trialand vehemently denying the charges all alongMoses nonetheless lost some of his endorsement contracts the following year. As the flap over that incident subsided, it was clear that Moses would have to face the top American challengers in the hurdles in order to protect his professional reputation.

His day of reckoning came in June of 1987, at a race in Madrid. Moses31 at the timewas beaten by 21-year-old Danny Harris, thus ending the infamous Edwin Moses streak at 107 wins in nine and three-quarters years. For his part, Moses professed no great disappointment over the loss. I have been running under tremendous pressure recently, he told Sports Illustrated. Now I can get back to concentrating on running fast instead of worrying about winning all the time. Moses did indeed rebound after that, winning his second world title in Rome in 1987. He took the world title race by just two hundredths of a second, over Danny Harris.

Twilight of a Legend

Inevitably, age took its toll on Edwin Moses. Probably his greatest disappointment came in 1988, when he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team that went to Seoul, South Korea, but failed to win any races. He was 33 at the timea good decade older than most of the other hurdlersand he had suffered back and knee injuries that required hours of painful physical therapy every day. In the wake of the 1988 Olympics, Mosess career seemed to be moving in new directions. In 1989 he became a member of the United States Olympic Committees substance abuse committee. He also began training with a bobsled team in hopes of winning a berth at the 1992 Winter Olympics. Those hopes never materialized, nor was he able to mount a comeback as a hurdler for the 1992 Summer Games.

I wont be competing in any more Olympics, Moses told Jet magazine in 1992. In the mornings when I wake up, Im not able to walk. Moses has not retired to the proverbial rocking chair, though. He still competes occasionally in European races for older athletes, and he hopes to be of continued use to the U. S. or the International Olympic Committee. It is not likely that anyone will ever challenge his winning streak in the 400-meter hurdles. As Kenny Moore concluded in Sports Illustrated, Moses has even outrun history. A loss or two couldnt mar this, the most dominant career of any runner ever.


Ebony, May 1984, p. 95; July 1992, p. 82.

Jet, June 29, 1992, p. 49.

Newsweek, October 10, 1988, p. 57.

People, July 23, 1984, p. 48; September 19, 1988, p. 48.

Sports Illustrated, July 30, 1984, pp. 52-65; December 24, 1984, pp. 32-44; June 9, 1986, pp. 30-7; June 15, 1987, pp. 34-5.

Washington Post, April 28, 1985, p. F-l.

Mark Kram

Moses, Edwin

views updated May 29 2018

Edwin Moses


American track and field athlete

Hurdler Edwin Moses is a four-time world-record holder in the 400-meter hurdles. He first set a new record with a time of 47.63 in 1976, and reduced it to 47.45 in 1977 and 47.13 in 1980. In 1983, he cut his time to 47.02. He was a two-time world champion, in 1977 and 1987, and won gold medals in the Olympics in 1976 and 1984.

"Track Was Almost Incidental"

Moses grew up in Dayton, Ohio, the middle son of Gladys and Irving Moses. Irving Moses had been a football center during his college career at Kentucky State, and later taught math and science and was principal of an elementary school. Gladys Moses was a supervisor of instruction for the Dayton public school system. Naturally, Moses' parents emphasized academic achievement, particularly in science, and sports came in a distant second. Moses, who like his father had a scientific mind, often read the encyclopedia for

fun as a child. When he was older, he and his brothers Irving Jr. and Vincent dissected frogs, launched homemade rockets, and made models of volcanoes and cars. Moses also played the saxophone and enjoyed creating art.

When his local school auditorium was set on fire, probably by students, Moses chose to be bused to another school four miles away, where he was one of only 20 African Americans in a student body of 800. In summer school, he took science and math courses for extra credit, and often tutored other students. Although he was on the track team, he was small5'8" and 135 poundsand was not considered a potential athlete. "Track was almost incidental," he told Curry Kirkpatrick in Sports Illustrated.

Moses attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, a traditionally African-American institution, on an academic scholarship. He studied physics and engineering, and he was also on the track team. Unfortunately, the school had no track, and the athletes had to train wherever they could. At college, he was called the "Bionic Man" because of the intensity of his training, as well as the intensity of his studying; he would later apply his scientific, mathematical and analytical talents to his athletic career. While at college he grew, eventually reaching 6'2". His legs were fully half of his height, a trait runners call "split high," and this trait would later help make him a world-record hurdler.

In 1975, Moses began talking about going to the Olympics. He did not yet have a plan; his talk was more intuition than anything else. And in March of 1976, at the Florida Relays, Moses ran times of 13.7 in the high hurdles, 46.1 in the 400 meters, and 50.1 in the intermediate hurdles. Although he didn't win any of these races, his ability was obvious to Olympic coach Leroy Walker, who attended the race. Walker told Kirkpatrick, "His size and speed; his base, the ability to carry the stride; his 'skim,' what we call the measurement of the stride over the hurdlehe had it all."


1955Born August 31, in Dayton, Ohio
1974-78Attends Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia; graduates with B.S. degree in physics and engineering
1976At U.S. Olympic Trials, sets new American record in 400-meter hurdles
1976Wins Olympic gold medal and sets world record of 47.63 in 400-meter hurdles
1977Sets new world record of 47.45 in the 400-meter hurdles
1977Wins world championship in 400-meter hurdles
1978-79Works as aerospace engineer for General Dynamics
1980U.S. boycotts Moscow Olympics; no U.S. athletes compete
1980Sets new world record of 47.13 in 400-meter hurdles
1982Marries Myrella Bordt
1983Sets new world record of 47.02 in 400-meter hurdles
1983Receives Sullivan Award for best U.S. amateur athlete
1984Named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year
1984Wins second Olympic gold medal
1987Streak of 107 consecutive wins is broken
1987Wins second world title in Rome
1988Wins Olympic bronze medal in 400-meter hurdles
1989Becomes member of U.S. Olympic Committee's substance abuse committee
1989-91Trains with U.S. bobsled team, but the team does not compete in 1992 Olympics
1991Moses and Myrella Bordt divorce
1994Inducted into National Track and Field Hall of Fame
1994Receives master's degree in business administration from Pepperdine University
1994Founding member of the Platinum Group business management firm
1990s 2001-presentWorks for Salomon Smith Barney investment bank Volunteers with Laureus Group and many other charitable and nonprofit organizations

One secret of Moses' success was his stride, and his ability to run with the same stride length even when he tired at the end of a race. Hurdlers try to make their steps between hurdles smooth and even, so that as the runner approaches the hurdle, he soars over it without breaking stride or "chopping" his steps. Moses' long legs and 9-foot, 8-inch stride, as well as his endurance, gave him the unique ability to run thirteen strides between hurdles throughout a 400-meter race, even at the end, while all other hurdlers ran thirteens at the beginning of a race, shortening their steps and increasing to fourteen or fifteen strides between hurdles as they became tired. In addition, Moses' long legs allowed him to simply float over the hurdles; as his wife, Myrella Moses, later told Kirkpatrick, "Edwin's advantage is that the other fellas actually have to jump over the hurdles."

At the NCAA Division III championships, held in Chicago in 1976, Moses fell when his sunglasses fogged up. Later in the year, he ran at the AAU meet at UCLA against top hurdlers. He was in the lead, flying along, and tried to look back to see where the other runners were. That one moment of distraction made him hit the seventh and ninth hurdles and stumble over the tenthbut he finished in fourth place, with a time of 48.99. From then on, he never again looked back during a race.

"Edwin Was Like the Lone Ranger"

At the trials for the 1976 Olympics, Moses set an American record in the 400 hurdles. And at the Olympics, held in Montreal, he set a world record with a time of 47.63, and won a gold medal.

At the time, Moses was not well known and was viewed as an enigma by the press and the public. His eyes had been sensitive to sunlight since the fifth grade, and he had to wear prescription sunglasses during competition so that he could see the hurdles. However, observers claimed that he wore the sunglasses as a political or social statement. In Sports Illustrated, Hurdler Andre Phillips told writer Curry Kirkpatrick that he recalled seeing Moses "with the [sweat suit] hood up and the glasses. The dude had come out of nowhere and there he was and you still couldn't see him. No face. Edwin was like the Lone Ranger. He waslike, wow!handsoff, alone, cool. I really got into the hurdles after that."

After his Olympic win, Moses did not receive the recognition he thought he would. He told Kirkpatrick, "I guess I expected to be recognized or doors would open or lights would flash or something. But it was like nothing. The race, the gold, the Olympics. [It was like] None of it had ever happened." He returned to Morehouse to complete his education, and for the next few years he was criticized for not running indoor events, for not running other outdoor events, for not having a coach, and for not joining a track club. After graduating with a 3.5 average and a degree in physics and engineering, Moses moved to California, where he worked as an aerospace engineer for General Dynamics from 1978 to 1979. He also continued to run, although he was bored with the lack of true competition against him, and even more frustrated when the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics for political reasons and he, like all other American athletes, lost his chance to compete there.

In 1977, Moses lowered his world record to 47.45. He also won the world championship title.

Moses met his wife, Myrella Bordt, in West Berlin in the summer of 1980. She was a movie set and costume designer, and a track fanin fact, she was such a fan of Moses that she had his photo on her bedroom wall. She told Kirkpatrick, "I knew this was the guy. He was gorgeous going over the hurdlethe look, the form, the mood it portrayed. He was compelling." In that same year, Moses set a new world record in the 400-meter hurdles: 47.13. In 1982, he and Bordt were married.

Moses applied his scientific mind to his training, using a heart rate monitor and athletic watch to guide his workouts. He tracked his training sessions on his home computer, analyzing the numbers and using them to plan future efforts. In Sports Illustrated, Kenny Moore wrote, "His workouts take two or three hours. He was educated to be an engineer. He is also an engine. He knows all his working parts. If something takes time, he gives it time."

A Prophetic Dream

At the end of August in 1983, Moses dreamed he saw the numbers "8-31-83" then, repeatedly, the numbers "47.03." "8-31-83" was his 28th birthday, and "47.03" was a very good time in the 400-meter hurdlesso good, in fact that it was a tenth of a second better than the world record Moses had set in 1980.

"8-31-83" was also the date of a race Moses was due to run in Koblenz, West Germany. At the race, he was relaxedso relaxed that he went to the starting line without socks and still wearing his watch, which he customarily took off before racing. In the weeks before the race, he had run 47.37 and 47.43 in the 400-meter hurdles. His relative slowness in these runs was due to the fact that he had gone out so fast and with such intensity that he ran up on the first hurdles in twelve strides, had to chop his steps to get over the hurdles, and lost momentum and speed. At the race in which he ran 47.43, he told Kenny Moore in Sports Illustrated,, "Everything was bad. I lost at least three-tenths [of a second], chopping, and I got tired awfully early."

Awards and Accomplishments

1976At U.S. Olympic Trials, sets new American record in 400-meter hurdles
1976Wins Olympic gold medal and sets world record of 47.63 in 400-meter hurdles
1977Sets new world record of 47.45 in the 400-meter hurdles
1977Wins world championship in 400-meter hurdles
1980Sets new world record to 47.13 in 400-meter hurdles
1983Sets new world record of 47.02 in 400-meter hurdles
1983Receives Sullivan Award for best U.S. amateur athlete
1984Named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year
1984Wins second Olympic gold medal
1987Wins second world title in Rome
1988Wins Olympic bronze medal in 400-meter hurdles
1994Inducted into National Track and Field Hall of Fame

So, at Koblenz, Moses decided to relax. Europeans are great fans of track and field, and the stadium was filled with 22,000 spectators. At the starting gun, Moses took off and cleared the first hurdle perfectly. He chopped at the second, third, and fifth hurdles, running even with American Andre Phillips. At the seventh hurdle, Moses accelerated. Phillips told Moore, "I saw him take a little look over his shoulder. And he just took off!" For the last 90 meters, Moses flew, not chopping, running seamlessly. His time was 47.02, a world record by .11 of a secondand a hundredth of a second faster than the time in his dream. As a result of his world record, Moses received the 1983 Sullivan Award for Best Amateur Athlete.

At the time, only three other runners had ever run the 400-meter hurdles faster then 48 seconds: Moses, Harald Schmid, John Akii-Bua, and Andre Phillips. Schmid accomplished the feat three times, and Akii-Bua each did it once. By July of 1984, Moses had done it twenty-seven times.

When Moses set that new record, he became instantly famous. Interviews in the media, advertising contracts, and other promotions changed the way the public viewed him. Moses told Kirkpatrick that before his record, interviewers focused on numbers and statistics: How many hurdles were there in the race? How fast could he run them? Moses commented that reporters didn't ask him personal questions, and assumed that because he often wore dark glasses and was an analytical person, reporters assumed, he said, "that I was aloof and distant and unapproachable andI loved this oneradical. I felt like going around saying, 'I didn't do it.'" In contrast to this image, he said, "I've always made friends easily."

Another Gold Medal

Moses gradually improved his public image, and by 1984, was noted for speaking out against the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. As a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, he was chosen to represent the other athletes and recite the Olympian oath, in which athletes pledge to compete fairly and with honor. He kept his winning streak going during these Olympics, winning his second gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles.

In June of 1987, his streak of 107 consecutive wins in over nine years was finally broken. Twenty-one-year-old Danny Harris beat the 31-year-old Moses at a race in Madrid, Spain. Moses, who had felt increasing pressure as his winning streak grew longer, was actually relieved that he could now simply concentrate on running fast rather than on winning. Nevertheless, he went back to winning, taking his second world title in Rome in 1987. In that race, he beat Harris by two hundredths of a second.

At the 1988 Olympics, held in Seoul, Korea, Moses came in third in the 400-meter hurdles, winning the bronze medal with a time of 47.56. After the final race, he and the other winners gathered at the interview area, waiting for the press, and out of long habit, Moses sat in the middle seat, traditionally the place of the gold medal winner. That winner, American Andre Phillips, was horrified when a Korean official told Moses to move over and give Phillips the center seat. Phillips told Pat Putnam in Sports Illustrated, "I mean a chair is a chair. I was just going to come in and plop down." He said that he did not ask Moses how he felt about being asked to move over, but noted, "It was a strange moment." An ironic twist to this event was that in order to win the bronze, Moses ran faster than he had for either of his previous Olympic gold medals.

In 1989, Moses became a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee's substance abuse committee. He also switched sports and began training with the U.S. bobsled team, hoping to compete in the 1992 Winter Olympics. Those hopes fell through, and he also did not qualify to run the hurdles at the 1992 Summer Olympics. After that, he worked with the Special Olympics, Montana State Games, Goodwill Games, and the Olympic Festival. On July 4, 1991, Moses and Myrella Bordt divorced.

Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford wrote that at his peak, Moses, "was not only a hero to the world, but also, within his own subculture, an adviser, a spokesman, a counselor, a mediator, a diplomat. No athlete in any sport is so respected by his peers as Moses is in track and field." Moses' brother Irving told Kirkpatrick, "Edwin is hurdling, body and soul."

Where Is He Now?

After retiring from competition, Moses earned a Master in Business Administration in Business Management degree from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California in 1994. He was a founding partner of The Platinum Group, a business management agency for world-class athletes, and then spent several years working as a financial consultant in investment management consulting for the Consulting Group, a division of the investment bank Salomon Smith Barney. Eventually, however, he told Yi-Wyn-Yen in Sports Illustrated, "I just got burned out. I wanted to get back into public speaking and do something worthwhile." Moses joined Laureus, a volunteer group of retired world-class athletes who receive corporate funding to run international sports programs. According to Yen, in only the first two months of 2002, he flew 27,000 miles around the world while working for the group, and visited South Africa, Australia, and China. Although he no longer runs, he remains fit through healthy eating and by riding his mountain bike on as many errands as possible.


Address: c/o Laureus World Sport Award, 15 Hill Street, London W1J 5QT, England. Email: [email protected]. Online:



"Edwin Moses." Biography Resource Center. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001.


Deford, Frank. "Rising to New Heights." Sports Illustrated (December 24, 1984): 32.

"Former Olympian Edwin Moses Says Education Key to His Success." Jet (July 22, 1996): 18.

"Hurdler Edwin Moses Named to Track and Field Hall of Fame." Jet (December 26, 1994): 46.

Kirkpatrick, Curry. "The Man Who Never Loses." Sports Illustrated (July 30, 1984): 52.

Moore, Kenny. "He Gave Himself a Birthday Present." Sports Illustrated (September 12, 1983): 16.

Moore, Kenny. "A Streak on the Line." Sports Illustrated (June 9, 1986): 30.

Putnam, Pat. "Moses Move Over: Andre Phillips Thwarted Edwin Moses' Try for More Hurdles Gold." Sports Illustrated (October 3, 1988): 40.

Schmidt, Beth. "Push-Off: Edwin Moses Finds the Sledding Tough in Lake Placid." Sports Illustrated (July 22, 1991): 9.

Swift, E. M. "Ice Follies." Sports Illustrated (February 4, 1991): 52.

Will-Weber, Mark. "Victory Lap." Runner's World (December, 2000): 44.

Yen, Yi-Wyn. "Edwin Moses, Hurdler: September 12, 1983." Sports Illustrated (March 11, 2002): 20.


Schwartz, Larry. "Gone With the Wind." (November 13, 2002).

Sketch by Kelly Winters

Edwin Moses

views updated Jun 11 2018

Edwin Moses

Edwin Moses (born 1955) is known as the greatest 400-meter hurdler ever. Over almost a decade, from September 1977 to June 1987, Moses won 107 consecutive races, including one at the 1984 Olympic Games, and broke the world record for the event four times.

Edwin Moses was born in Dayton, Ohio on August 31, 1955. Both of his parents were educators, and Moses grew up with a strong interest in academics. He spent his time building model volcanoes, dissecting frogs, collecting fossils, and launching homemade rockets. His parents, who were both active on the school board, encouraged his academic interests and expected him to do well. He told a reporter for the Associated Press, "It was mandatory for us to join a book club and read five to ten books during the summer and go to summer schools. It was a matter of keeping us involved in activities that kept us stimulated." Ironically, Moses bought his first pair of running shoes in Paris during a trip he took there with the high school French club.

In high school, according to Larry Schwartz in, Moses said, "I had no ambitions to be an Olympic track star or any kind of athlete." He joined the basketball team and the football team, but the coach cut him from the basketball team and he was removed from the football team for fighting. He moved to track and gymnastics, and found that the solitary nature of these sports suited his personality. "I found that I enjoyed individual sports much more," he said, according to Schwartz. "Everything is cut and dry, nothing is arbitrary. It's just a matter of getting to the finish line first." Moses first read about hurdling in a Boy Scout track and field manual that showed him the technique.

Despite his new interest in track and field, Moses never qualified for the Ohio High School State Track and Field Championships, and was not considered skilled enough to receive an athletic scholarship to college. Instead, he accepted an academic scholarship to Morehouse College in Atlanta. He majored in physics and engineering. The school had a track team, but didn't have a track to practice on. Moses was known as "Bionic Man" at the college, where he was largely in charge of his own training. He applied his scientific interests to his running, analyzing his performance and training, and working fiercely to improve. Moses ran in the 110-meter hurdles, 400-meters and 4 x 100-meter relays. He entered a 400-meter hurdle race only once before 1976. When he began running this event, he improved dramatically.

Stunned the World

Four months after running the event for the first time, Moses competed in the Montreal Olympic Games of 1976. This unknown athlete from a black college stunned the world, winning the gold medal by eight meters, the largest winning margin ever in the Olympic event, and setting a world record of 47.64 seconds. According to Schwartz, the silver-medal winner, Mike Shine, later said of the huge winning margin, "Edwin and I were ships passing in the night." Shine also said, "The last 60 or 70 meters, I couldn't believe him. I didn't think anyone could pull away that fast." Moses said, "I pushed hard on the last five hurdles. Anyone can run the first five, but what decides who wins a race is the last five. I'd planned to run a 47.5 today. I guess 47.6 isn't too bad."

Moses had an unusual combination of speed, grace, and stamina, and was known for his long and efficient 9-foot, 9-inch stride: instead of taking fourteen steps between each of the 10 three-foot hurdles, as every other runner did, he only took 13. According to Schwartz, Moses said, "It just happens that my slow is faster than most athletes' fast. People either think that I'm a freak or that the other guys aren't any good." Before Moses perfected his 13-step technique, others told him that he couldn't do it—that no one could do it. Moses worked on his technique in secret, never letting anyone else watch him work out. Once he told someone that his track affiliation was the Utopian Track Club, which had one member—Moses.

More serious and studious than other athletes, in the early years of his career Moses was somewhat of an enigma to track fans. They saw him as what Schwartz described as "a hurdling automaton. Not until years later would he be viewed as a respected statesman." Moses took track and life seriously. His major regret about the Olympic experience was that training had interfered with his study time, so that his grade point average fell to 3.57. He was not always serious, however; his human side showed several times. During the Montreal Olympics he knocked over two hurdles during his victory lap (later, according to Schwartz, he joked, "I'm glad I didn't do that during the race"). At the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki he ran with an untied shoe. At the Los Angeles Olympics he temporarily forgot the words to the athletes' oath. Perhaps his hesitation was because this was an emotional moment for him—he dedicated his win in the 400-meter hurdles to his father, who had died a year before.

Began Long Winning Streak

In 1977, Moses broke his own world record at the AAU's Pepsi Invitational meet. In that same year, on August 26th, he lost the 400-meter hurdle race to Harald Schmid. It was only the fourth time that he had lost the event, and it would be the last time he lost for almost a decade. The next week, he raced against Schmid again, and won by 15 meters.

In 1978, he received his Bachelor of Science degree from Morehouse. After graduating, he left Atlanta because there were no good training facilities for his event there, and moved to California. In 1980, he was scheduled to compete in the Olympics. Because of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, President Jimmy Carter ordered the U.S. athletes to boycott the event, which was held in Moscow. The boycott angered Moses, who believed the athletes were being used as pawns in a political game. Instead, he ran at an international meet in Milan, Italy and again broke his own world record with a time of 47.13.

Outspoken Views

In 1980, Moses openly questioned the then-current rule that amateur athletes could not accept money for competing and endorsing products. He believed that many amateur athletes did accept money, but did it dishonestly. Moses felt it would be better if the process were simply made legal and honest. Other athletes agreed with Moses. He aroused controversy, however, when he spoke out against the use of steroids, which some athletes used to improve their performance, but which were harmful to their health. Records by drug-using athletes became suspect and cheapened the records of those who did not use steroids. According to Schwartz, he said, "Someone had to say something. What are these people doing to their bodies? Is winning worth that much? I don't think so." Some athletes used other illicit performance-enhancing techniques that might not be apparent if they were tested only during competition. Moses and others called for the testing of athletes during the off-season, when they were not actively competing but when some were using performance-enhancing drugs.

In 1982, Moses sat out the season because of injury and illness. That same year, he married Myrella Bordt, a West German woman who designed movie sets and costumes. The marriage was not successful and they divorced in 1991.

A Prophetic Dream

In 1983, Moses dreamed that he saw the numbers "8-31-83" and then, repeatedly, "47.03." This was a tenth of a second faster than his last world record. Soon after, at a meet in Germany, he ran on his 28th birthday—August 31, 1983—and set another world record with a time that was a hundredth of a second faster than his dream: 47.02.

In the 1984 Olympics, Moses won another gold medal, becoming the second man to win two 400-meter Olympic hurdle events. He had been hired by the Kappa sportswear company in Italy to endorse their clothing, and they considered this win so important to their image that they had taken out $1 million in insurance in case he was injured and couldn't run. Fortunately, he did win. That same year, he was named Sportsman of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee and Sports Illustrated.

Three years later, on June 4, 1987, Danny Harris broke Moses' long winning streak—beating him by 11 seconds. Moses went on to win ten events in a row, beating Harris in Rome at the 1987 World Championships. At the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Moses ran his fastest Olympic final ever with a time of 47.56, but came in third. His teammate, Andre Phillips, came in first. Phillips had looked up to Moses since high school, and had lost to him more than 20 times, including during the Olympic trials.

Retired from Competition

When Moses retired from competition, he did not miss training. In 1986, he had ruptured a disc in his back. The injury was not properly diagnosed or treated, so he spent the last three years of his track career in severe pain. It was not until 1993 that the injury was correctly diagnosed.

Moses moved back to Atlanta in 1994, after receiving his master's degree in business administration from Pepperdine University. Although he had retired from competition, he was still active in sports, working as the athletes' liaison to the International Olympic Committee. He was also elected president of the International Amateur Athletic Association. Moses testified before Congress on sports issues, and was a member of the President's Commission on White House Fellowships and the National Criminal Justice Commission. As liaison to the International Olympic Committee, he was able to get the marathon schedule changed so that the grueling event would be run in the morning, when it was still cool, rather than in the sweltering afternoon. As president of the International Amateur Athletic Association, he told an Associated Press writer, he hopes to encourage education. "Education has been the key to my whole life," he said. "If I had not gotten a scholarship and gone to Morehouse, I wouldn't be here today. No one would know who I was." He is concerned about young people who grow up in broken homes and are exposed to drugs, violence, and poverty, and deplores advertising campaigns that lead young people to care more about wearing expensive jackets and shoes rather than getting a good education. He told an Associated Press reporter that "It's unlikely that any of them are going to be superstars in sports compared to the chances of getting an education and being a successful person in almost any career, whether it be chemistry, physics or whatever." Moses now works as a financial consultant for the Robinson-Humphrey investment firm in Atlanta.

Of his unprecedented winning streak, Tom Weir wrote in USA Today, Moses said, "I'm hoping that the streak will stand for a long time—that it will be my mark on the sport, my legacy." And according to Schwartz, he said that he hoped to be remembered "as the guy nobody could beat. Maybe in the years to come, people will understand the things I have accomplished and realize, 'Hey, this guy was really something. Nobody's ever going to do that again."'

Further Reading

"Edwin Moses," Ohio's Greatest Runners, (November 9, 1999).

"Edwin Moses Feels at Home Being from Somewhere Else,", (November 9, 1999).

"Gone with the Wind,", (November 9, 1999).

"Great Moments in Olympic History No. 13: Edwin Moses-Unbeaten Streak Lasted Nearly a Decade," USA Today, (November 9, 1999).

"Moses Made Winning Look Easy,", (November 9, 1999).

"The Olympic Hall of Fame: Edwin Moses,", (November 9, 1999). □