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Pat Putnam
August 02, 1976
In track and field, a hot hurdler and a disappointed discus thrower made up for the shaky U.S. start and a sweet run by an ex-sugar man
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August 02, 1976

Holy Moses, What A Dandy Race

In track and field, a hot hurdler and a disappointed discus thrower made up for the shaky U.S. start and a sweet run by an ex-sugar man

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A lanky engineering major from Ohio, who is known to his teammates as the Monster Man, and a 256-pound former history teacher from Oregon finally unstuck a young and inexperienced U.S. track and field team that for two days had been spinning its wheels in Montreal's vast Olympic Stadium. Sunday's gold strike would have been even more spectacular, except that Rick Wohlhuter, much the premeet favorite at 800 meters, failed to win. As he strained through the stretch, Wohlhuter saw the race, the world record (1:43.50) and the gold medal go to Alberto Juantorena, the tall, burly Cuban who runs the 800 like a 400-meter man, which he was exclusively until he tried his hand at the longer distance for the first time, seriously, in May. Behind Juantorena—and ahead of Wohlhuter—came Belgium's Ivo Van Damme.

The U.S. got a world record of its own when Edwin Moses, who hammers the physics and chemistry books for a 3.57 average at Atlanta's Morehouse College, showed the world what he has been keeping to himself all along—that he's the finest 400-meter hurdler ever. Running in his tinted prescription glasses, the 20-year-old Moses burned the field in 47.64 seconds, slicing almost two-tenths off the record set by John Akii-Bua four years ago in Munich.

Only a few hours earlier, Mac Wilkins, the former teacher who holds the world record in the discus (232'6"), fell well short of that mark with a throw of 221'5". To his disappointment, that was only good enough for the gold medal.

Moses' race was a stunner. He went out with a smooth 13-step gait between hurdles. Into the last turn, as the rest of the field was adjusting its steps to a conservative 15 because of waning strength, Moses, never changing, surged far ahead. He held a huge lead going into the stretch, and only Mike Shine, the long shot from Penn State, stayed close to give the U.S. a one-two sweep.

The record came as no surprise to Moses, although he admitted he knew it would be harder without the presence of Akii-Bua, the Ugandan who left with his teammates after the Games opened. "I knew I was capable of doing it by myself," Moses said. "I just knew it would be more work without him in the race. Now I guess I'll go get the medal and relax for about a week."

"We figured Akii-Bua was the man to beat, so we decided to imitate his style," said the Rev. Lloyd Jackson, More-house's unpaid coach. "That gives us a big edge because Moses is faster for the first 200 than Akii-Bua and he's stronger from the seventh hurdle on."

Early this spring Dr. Leroy Walker, the U.S. men's track and field coach, predicted a gold medal for Moses, who had run only one intermediate hurdle race before this year; in high school he was a high hurdler. "As far back as the Florida Relays anybody who knows hurdles could tell when they first saw him that he was going to be great," said Walker after watching Moses run away from the world Sunday. "Because of his great speed workouts, his fine stride pattern, I see no reason why he can't run a half second better than he did today."

A prodigious sleeper—he put in nine hours Saturday night and then napped for four hours Sunday before the final—Moses usually gets up only to turn in some amazing workouts and eat. Last week, for instance, he ran 200 meters loosely timed in 20 seconds. The next day he ran three 200s, averaging a little more than 20. He's done 200 meters with hurdles in 20.8.

One thing his coach has had to watch is Moses' tendency to stretch out into 12 strides between hurdles. It is too punishing. Akii-Bua uses the normal 13 steps for five hurdles, changes down to 14 for the next couple and finishes with 15. "When Edwin flirts with 12," says Jackson, "we kind of have to get on him."

The 6'2", 185-pound Juantorena, who dedicated Sunday's 800-meter victory to Fidel Castro, is, of all things, an ex-basketball player. "The basketball, well, it wasn't so good for me," he says. "But I was fast, and the trainers decided to make me a 400-meter runner. That is what is so surprising. Until recently I never even thought about running the 800. It wasn't until a few months ago that I was fast enough to win a medal here in the 800. But a world record? That was really surprising. I had hoped to get a world record in the 400."

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