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Rick Telander
June 18, 1979
Logic and order are the cornerstones of Edwin Moses' life, and of his utter dominance of the 400-meter hurdles
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June 18, 1979

It's Been Step By Precise Step

Logic and order are the cornerstones of Edwin Moses' life, and of his utter dominance of the 400-meter hurdles

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At Fairview, Moses soon concentrated on track because of difficulties with coaches in the other sports. "I always felt so frustrated having somebody else make a judgment about my talent," he says. "But in track, if you can beat everybody to the tape, nobody can disturb you."

Both of Moses' parents are educators—Irving is an elementary school principal, Gladys is a curriculum supervisor for the Dayton public school system—and the Moses household has always been filled with books. In a rare twist to the usual superstar story, Edwin began serious reading long before he began serious training. At age seven he started in on a multivolume children's encyclopedia and continued till he reached Z.

In grade school he built volcanoes, dissected frogs, collected fossils, launched homemade rockets. As a treat, he was allowed to go to school every summer for extra courses in math and science. "I hung out at the playground like the rest of the kids," he says, "but I did a lot of academic hanging out, too."

After high school Edwin attended tiny (enrollment 1,650) Morehouse on an academic scholarship. He chose the predominantly black school because of its high academic rating and prestige—its alumni include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond and Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson. But there is little in the way of athletic tradition at Morehouse, and Moses had to drive off campus to get to a practice track. "It wasn't a problem, though," he says. " Morehouse was such a historical place. It was like going to Harvard."

The learning process hasn't stopped with his move to California. While driving his 1966 Plymouth to a recent practice, Moses spotted a three-foot-long king snake by the side of the road. Backing up carefully, he stopped next to the snake and watched as it glided across the hot pavement. Edwin said nothing, but his eyes focused sharply, his brow furrowed and something—perhaps the slip angle of the snake's slithering progress across the highway—was analyzed and stored.

Far from being idle, eggheaded theorizing, Moses' physics training has a direct application to his running. "I'm constantly making adjustments because of my knowledge of physics," he says. "Coaches, for instance, tell me I have too much backkick. But I know that the tighter the angle between the calf and the thigh, the less angular momentum. You need to get the leg forward. I've given seminars on this. With some high-speed cameras and all the angles measured, I think I could write out formulas to explain the whole thing."

Moses seems self-contained—a hurdling automaton—and there are those who think this could be debilitating, who believe such self-reliance is dangerous. Dick Hill, the track coach at San Diego State and a hurdling authority, is one of those critics.

"Edwin is unique in his maturity," he says. "He is a smooth-flowing machine. But you have to wonder what he'd be like if all of a sudden there's a guy with him on the eighth hurdle. Who knows, he might run 46 or he might tie up. An individual without a coach is totally in charge of his destiny. I'm just a firm believer that everybody needs someone."

Moses shakes his head. He's thought about this a lot. "Coaches and track clubs have nothing to offer me," he says. "This is like a hobby. You don't have to share a hobby with somebody else."

At the Mt. San Antonio Relays on a sunny Saturday afternoon in April, Moses sits alone in the shade. The meet is something of a homecoming for him because he hasn't run in a major American meet in nearly two years, since his world-record performance at the '77 AAUs. Various illnesses and a lingering defiance have kept him away.

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