The University of California, Irvine has a wonderful all-purpose athletic field. It is half a mile in circumference and surrounded by dark pines and airy eucalyptus trees. At 10 minutes to 8 on a spring morning the evaporating dew carries an inviting, herbal tang. The 10 acres of turf are dense and level. "The sprinkler heads retract to be flush with the ground," says Edwin Moses. "And look, they have plastic caps on them, so they won't bruise you."
Moses, as he does every day, has spread a ratty old beach mat in one corner of this salubrious expanse. On it he has laid out a thermos bottle, a radio, a towel, keys, spiked shoes, a clock and a notebook. "My camp," he says. He stretches for many minutes and in many positions, then does a series of high-kicking hurdler's exercises. Save for a groundskeeper or two, he is alone.
Which is natural, for Moses has commanded us to think of him only in the singular. He easily won the 1976 and 1984 Olympic gold medals in the 400-meter hurdles (1980's was kept from him only by boycott), and he has broken the world record four times, his current mark being 47.02. Far more inflaming to the imagination, he has not been beaten in the 400 hurdles since Aug. 26, 1977, when West Germany's Harald Schmid nipped him in Berlin. Since then, Moses has won 94 straight finals. Over nine years. Over 940 hurdles. Over everybody else in the world.
Moses will be 31 in August. "I never thought I'd be in track and field this long," he says, as he pulls off his sweats. "Even in 1980 it was hard to see another four years."
As he speaks, he emits a steady beeping. "Pulse," he says. The large black watch on his right wrist sounds with each heartbeat. "I use it to gauge recovery. When it gets back down to 120, I'm ready to go again."
In early-season training he has run many half miles for stamina. Now he is doing faster quarters. The speed and number will depend on his instrument readings. "I got quick recovery after the 800s, but it's taking longer with the 400s," he says. He has stripped to an old Morehouse (his alma mater) T-shirt, shorts, shades and spikes. He walks awhile, back and forth across his starting point, head down, marshaling concentration. Then he is off.
And there is the familiar, immense stride. His head nestles between his high shoulders. When he passes, his footfalls are perceptible through the earth. He reaches 400 in 56 seconds.
Then he walks, the beeps dropping slowly from the 180 range. "Have to do this early," he says, "before the sun. You never recover if your body's always trying to get rid of heat."
He runs again, as lean and hard as the eucalyptus trunks. And walks again. "People see the star life. They say, 'You're lucky. All you have to do is run.' I laugh and say let's compare. If you were a lawyer, you'd have to be on the Supreme Court to be equal in performance. Competition is fierce everywhere." This remark seems to wander off in two directions. Sacrifice is necessary to reach the top in any discipline. That's why they are called disciplines. But a Supreme Court justice is appointed for life. Moses, on the other hand, must keep winning.
He will run these 400s until he decides he has done enough. He asks that the number not be printed. Lately he has noticed opponents altering their training programs to match his. "I used to be perfectly open," he says. "Now I try to be a little more mysterious."