Endings for America's Greg Foster have so often been bloody and bruised that the best high hurdler in the world now races his own past as much as any field. In the indoor Worlds he and Canada's Mark McKoy tangled and fell. Just last month, at the Pan Ams, teammate Cletus Clark accidentally kicked Foster's leg, and Foster could not finish. "I thought about it all day, every day," said Foster. "What else could happen?"
Nothing. In the final he slipped cleanly over the barriers. Having survived, he won, in 13.21. He punched the air in joyful relief and later cried on the victory stand, thinking of his mother (who died two years ago), who had seen him win the inaugural World title in 1983 in Helsinki, yearning to have her here with him.
Another defending champion, Edwin Moses of the U.S., had more than memories to overcome. In Rome he faced both Harald Schmid of West Germany, the man who had last beaten him, in 1977, before he began his 10-year, 107-race winning streak in the 400-meter hurdles, and Danny Harris, the man who had ended that streak in June. Both were hot after the master's 32-year-old blood, and it didn't help that Moses had been fighting off a low-grade infection for 10 days.
In one crucial respect, the old Moses luck held: He drew Lane 3. Schmid was in 4, Harris, 5. Because of the staggered start, Moses could watch his rivals throughout, but they would be blind to him until late in the race. Moses planned accordingly. "I wanted to get out fast and establish my lead by 250 meters," he said. That was the strategy Moses had used so successfully against Harris in this year's TAC meet, when the shock of seeing Moses roaring past him at that point caused Harris to clobber a hurdle, and he never recovered. But he had learned.
In Rome, Moses executed a perfect start and reached the second turn ahead by four meters. Clearly his astounding supremacy was intact. The crowd cried out as if enraptured by fireworks, not screaming at combat. Then Harris and Schmid began to gain. Entering the stretch, they had cut Moses's cushion to two meters. Moses tires just as he ages: with style. Yet the long bounds of his stride seemed to leave him floating in the air, as helpless as in a dream, while Harris and Schmid, digging powerfully, continued to close on him.
Harris was second at the last hurdle, but Schmid cleared it in perfect form and passed him. Harris passed Schmid back with 10 meters to go and drove wildly after Moses. In the final step the three leaned almost as one.
The official photo showed Moses had won in a meet-record 47.46. Only he has ever run the intermediate hurdles faster. Harris in second and Schmid in third were both clocked in 47.48.
Schmid is 29, and 10 years of being a dry leaf in Moses's slipstream has made him cherish simply being near the man. "I don't think I was really behind Moses," he said, his hands forming an imaginary Edwin to his left. Beside him, his gesture suggested. "Just think of me beside him."
Moses could do nothing else. "The toughest race of my career," he said. His prayerful, weary 12-minute victory lap included a trip into the stands to embrace his mother, Gladys, and his wife, Myrella. "I've created a monster," he said. "It's harder and harder to win."
Track in Rome accentuates such perils. The combination of the 75° temperature and 86% humidity cut down the women's 10,000-meter race-walkers like September corn. Even winner Irina Strakhova didn't know if she could make the final lap. The images of heat-struck agony, repeated at ghoulish length on Italian TV, were the most dramatic in memory. Australia's Lorraine Jachno came into the homestretch staggering uncontrollably, crashed into a set of hurdles and fell heavily. There she became a symbol of the endurance athlete's unbreakable will to finish, and the reason why such athletes must be stopped when endangered by heat. As she lay dazed on her back, with officials running to her, she brought up one arm and feebly tried to wave them away.