"Edwin is so good it isn't even a story anymore, is it, when he wins or sets a record?" says Dr. Leroy Walker, the U.S. Olympic track and field coach in '76. "After all those races he's still almost invisible. Taken for granted. He can be at 75, 80 percent and still beat everybody else. He's gone past the textbooks now. In an art gallery, do we stand around talking about Van Gogh? Extraordinary talent is obvious. We're in the rarefied presence of an immortal here. Edwin's a crowd unto himself."
Another crowd this day keeps its distance. It's made up mostly of female athletes and male oglers gathered for a women's invitational meet on the campus of the University of California at Irvine, Moses's primary training ground. As a rule Moses's practices consist of alternating 200s, 400s and 600s with or without hurdles, but because the stands and infield are filling up on this hot morning in May he adjourns to an upper field, which he long ago measured off, for some speed work on the grass. In winter Moses does endurance work on the soft beaches or on the rolling hills of a golf course near his Laguna Hills condo. (If the 400 hurdles were contested at indoor meets, Moses's winning streak might be nearing 200.) He learned to train at distances—a previously unheard-of regimen as preparation for the 400H—as a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Later he would log nine-mile hours with his pre-Myrella roommate, Henry Rono, the distance runner from Kenya.
An inviting sun having returned to Southern California this day, Moses is back running on the grass at Irvine. Yesterday, while he and Myrella rested—Moses from the workout, Myrella from talking about and timing her man—they were joined by Daley Thompson, the British decathlete who intermittently trains at Irvine. Moses and Thompson sometimes run on the same pickup relay team; on occasion they work out together—seriously in the high hurdles, comically in the pole vault.
"You're a budding star in the vault, Ed. I insist on it," Thompson says.
"Sure I am. I rode that thing to eight feet at least," Moses replies. "I've got to quit clowning around, Daley. Just think if I got hurt and had to answer questions. 'Ah yes, international press. Well, I broke my ass going for a PR in the pole vault.' "
Moses's workouts are planned, precise, always logical, never overburdening—then coded and correlated with his training sessions past and future on a computer terminal at home. His digital chest belt and digital watch are constantly beeping, flashing numbers, signaling lap times, pulse and heartbeat, and playing goodness knows what other inspirational tunes for their master. Standing around in shorts and T shirt, Moses will suddenly start beeping from every pore. At Morehouse, even before the digital stuff, he was known as the Bionic Man because of his improbably fierce training. Now—"I love it when the beeping freaks people out," Moses says. Runner as robot. Chariots of Artoo-Deetoo.
To be sure, Moses is our most esteemed Olympian. On that there is no argument. Carl Lewis, Flashdance himself, has annoyed many of his peers with his prima donna behavior—at the world championships in Helsinki last summer his sprint relay mates voted to kick Lewis off the team if he kept refusing to practice and didn't shape up. Willie Gault, the Tennessee sprinter now with the Chicago Bears, saved him on appeal. As for Mary Decker, her hulking companion, British discus thrower Richard Slaney, and to a lesser extent her coach, Dick Brown, have stifled her natural spontaneity by cloistering her, thereby alienating much of the press and many of her fans.
Moses, on the other hand—the world-record holder, the gold medalist, the owner of The Streak—has retained an admirable sense of self and of his sport that is nearly patriarchal. Moses struggled through the evils and inanities of amateurism during the AAU years, paying his dues in flesh and blood. He always has been on the front lines fighting for athletes' financial rights (which culminated in rule changes and the TAC trust funds) and against steroids and other drug abuse. He's a sounding board on the circuit for all questions relating to coaches, agents, meet promoters and, essentially, the proper way of doing things. He's an officer (one of only seven athletes worldwide serving on an advisory commission to the International Olympic Committee) and a gentleman. Not to mention a scholar, who graduated from Morehouse with a 3.5 average and a B.S. in physics and worked for a while as an aerospace engineer with General Dynamics.
Moses also plays squarely by the new rules regarding finances. In a recent Los Angeles Times story he was quoted as saying, "I can't afford to mess around. I'm not talking about jeopardizing 20, 30, or 40 thousand dollars. I'm talking six figures. Even if I get $1.50, I report it."
Dignity. Maturity. Seriousness of purpose. These are Moses's calling cards. At 28 he has become the sport's elder statesman while remaining at the very pinnacle of his talent. Eighty-nine...in...a...row. Let that sink in a bit. Eighty-nine! Moreover, as one of the three individual U.S. gold medal holdover winners from the Montreal Games (discus thrower Mac Wilkins and archer Darrell Pace are the others) plus the 1983 Sullivan Award winner, Moses is the favorite to be elected captain of the U.S. track and field team this week in Los Angeles and to be selected by the other team captains to carry Old Glory in the opening ceremonies. Such would be justice. It is an honor and privilege Moses longs for.