Suffering the effects of jet lag and altitude, Edwin Moses felt no explosiveness in his legs as he and driver Brian Shimer eased their two-man bobsled into position for the start of their second and final run down the Cervinia, Italy, track last week. Yes, the Edwin Moses, two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 400-meter hurdles, who has emerged, at 35, as "one of the top two or three brakemen in the world," according to the U.S. bobsled coach, Tony Carlino. "And he's only 85 to 90 percent of where he will be."
Shimer and Moses, who man the top American two-man sled, are responsible for the only U.S. medal in World Cup bobsled competition this season, a bronze in Winterberg, Germany, on Nov. 29. It was the brightest spot in what has been another year of shame for U.S. bobsled's chronically inept national governing body.
But now Moses and Shimer were preparing for their final descent at Cervinia. An uncharacteristically atrocious start had left them tied for 11th place after the first run. Still, they were only .41 of a second out of third, and if they could lop .10 off the first 50 meters, they could move up five or six places, perhaps more.
Moses and Shimer rocked the sled once, lowered their shoulders and pushed. Cries of encouragement from their teammates were heard as the two sprinted down the course, flicking ice shavings into the air. Shimer jumped in first, then Moses, and the electronic clock froze at 5.38 seconds at the 50-meter mark—.09 better than they had started their first run but still .12 slower than the best starting time of the day.
Suddenly, inexplicably, the sled skidded sideways and slammed against the wall, slowing their momentum. Shimer cursed. There was nothing they could do now to make up the lost time. Shimer continued shouting profanities at every turn, so that Moses, head down, kept wondering if they were about to crash. This is it! he thought, bracing himself.
"So that's why your helmet was in my back the whole way," Shimer said later, laughing. They made it down safely, but their run was .28 slower than their first one, and the combined times placed them a disappointing 12th. Still, it was good enough to move them into a tie for seventh in the overall World Cup standings heading into the world championships, which start Feb. 4 in Altenberg, Germany.
That may have been one of the few times this season that an American bobsledder's curses were directed at the track rather than at his sport's higher-ups. Even as bobsled has attracted a crop of high-profile U.S. athletes—in addition to Moses, NFL stars Herschel Walker and Willie Gault will join the team in Altenberg—the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF) has come under attack from its athletes, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and members of its own board for allegedly misusing funds and otherwise disregarding the best interests of its athletes. Indeed, some observers wonder whether the word skeleton in the federation's title might more aptly apply to secrets hidden in its closet than to the non-Olympic sport the organization also oversees, in which one person rides a sled headfirst down the bobrun.
Had Moses known more about the political realities of bobsled before he hopped on board, he might never have let Gault talk him into giving the sport a try when the two spoke at the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, where Moses was a spectator and Gault a member of the U.S. squad. "I'd been watching bobsled on television since I was little, but Calgary's where I got the fever," Moses says. "I just wanted to do it, so I said, 'Why not?' "
Moses, who has taken the last two track seasons off, earned the respect of the other U.S. bobsledders by committing to the sport full-time and paying his own way back and forth between Newport Beach, Calif., where he lives, and Lake Placid, N.Y., where the U.S. team trains and the USBSF is based, three times since July. Moses has a degree in physics from Morehouse College, and the technical side of the sport attracts him. He is quick to grab a wrench to change and align a sled's runners and willingly spends long hours with sandpaper and oil in hand, helping Shimer polish the runners smooth. "You'd think someone from an individual sport wouldn't fit in that quickly," says Shimer. "But Edwin's a technician in everything he does. He's always asking questions and bringing things to my attention I'd never thought of. I was amazed how quickly he caught on."
By seriously lifting weights for the first time in his athletic career, Moses, who's planning a comeback in the hurdles this summer, has put on about 10 pounds—to 185—since his 122-race, 10-year winning streak ended in 1987. "I've bulked up about as much as I want to," he says. "A guy like Herschel still has 40 pounds more-than me, but I've been able to overcome that with good technique. The [bobsled] start is a lot like coming out of the starting blocks. You need power, speed and acceleration."