SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
July 30, 1984
Edwin Moses, the winner of 89 straight races in the 400 hurdles, is a gold-pipe cinch to get number 90 in the Olympics. In no less of an accomplishment, he's taken off his shades and stands revealed as one terrific guy
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 30, 1984

The Man Who Never Loses

Edwin Moses, the winner of 89 straight races in the 400 hurdles, is a gold-pipe cinch to get number 90 in the Olympics. In no less of an accomplishment, he's taken off his shades and stands revealed as one terrific guy

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

At Cal-Irvine, passionate track and field country, the respect accorded Moses matches that which he, in kind, returns. While soccer, softball and Frisbee games take place all about him, Moses first pursues a solid hour's worth of stretching exercises which seem part Jane Fonda workout, part Bruce Lee chop-your-neck-off martial arts. Make it burn! Haaaiiii-Ya! Moses moves on to his intervals, and extreme beeping follows.

There is no hurdles workout this day; Moses figures he has perfected his technique enough to wait another month before giving a final fine-tuning to his flight over "the sticks." While most of the women's meet competitors and spectators watch Moses for part of his 2½-hour session, only once is he interrupted. A young girl requests an autograph. Moses explains he's training and if she can wait and go watch the women's meet, he'll seek her out when he's finished.

Later, Moses finds the girl and signs her program the way he habitually honors autograph requests: Edwin Moses...400——(a line drawing of a hurdle)...47.02 (his world-record time).

Moses watches the meet intently—afterward he will present trophies to the winners—sometimes photographing the events with his professional's array of cameras and lenses. He stops to chat with some strangers. A mother and daughter approach. Moses asks if they've bought tickets for the Olympic trials in L.A. "Give me your address, I'll send you the forms to fill out. Plenty of good seats left," he says. A grandfather of one of the high school contestants comes up to request a critique. "What event?" Moses asks. He spots the girl. "The 400 hurdles? Oh, no problem," he says. "She's got the legs. I tell you what. I'll take some pictures of her. Give me your address and I'll send them to you." The granddad acts sufficiently nonchalant to conceal the heart-spinning he must certainly feel upon realizing that his young hurdler will soon receive a photograph of her taken by the finest hurdler of all time. Soon Moses leaves and walks up the grassy slope to the parking lot. "The recognition has really turned around in the last year," he says, "and I have to admit I love it. I used to be seriously incognito—without wanting to be. The effect of the magazines, television, billboards"—Moses is currently hurdling off of 20 gigantic Kodak advertisements around L.A.—"they've changed my whole life in terms of having to deal with being a, quote, star. The interviews before were all statistics and numbers. They asked all the other questions. How many hurdles in the race? Confirmation stuff. They didn't bother to find out about me. I've always made friends easily and my friends didn't understand these stories. That hurt the most. That I was aloof and distant and unapproachable and—I loved this one—radical. I felt like going around saying, I didn't do it.' I wore the dark glasses, so obviously I was hiding my real feelings and obviously I was radical. That always reminded me of the Eddie Murphy joke about the guy in the hotel lobby. Can't a black guy carry a suitcase? Now I wear contact lenses. Now I've got a receding hairline. So now I'm a celebrity." Moses bursts into his characteristic staccato chuckle.

Moses is a close friend of Bill Cosby's. Cosby says his one resolution for 1984 is to be the first to embrace Moses at the finish line of the 400H Olympic final on Aug. 5. But Moses is a spiritual brother of Murphy, quoting and mimicking the style of the young comedian regularly on the hour. Can't a black guy drive a Mercedes? Can't a black guy wear dark glasses?

Moses packs his gear into the back of his Mercedes and closes the trunk. His license plate reads: OLYMPYN.

At home in Laguna Hills, hard by Lion Country Safari, which Moses has never visited, the neighborhood's most famous couple lives at the end of a winding road in a modest apartment charmingly cluttered with their collection of African sculpture and the three-dimensional Oriental collages Myrella fashions. Pictures of the two taken by each other as well as others are everywhere—on walls, floors and tables, in drawers. Moses on the cover of the Italian fashion magazine L'Uomo adorns one wall. Moses in a prayerful, prerace huddle with his fellow American hurdlers at the world championships is in the vestibule. In a pile of glossies there are Moses and Renaldo Nehemiah; Moses and photographer Annie Leibowitz; Moses and Soviet sprinter Valeri Borzov; Moses and a Swiss friend about to fly over the Alps; Myrella with the late Bob Marley and his band, The Wailers.

"Look at this early one," Myrella says, pointing to a picture of the 20-year-old Moses. "Here is the way you were. You're so serious. You've got the dark clothes. You were, like, 'Don't touch me. Don't even talk to me.' "

Moses bristles. This is a sensitive area. "It was a matter of perception," he says firmly. "I know it was difficult to relate to me back then. I was black, studying physics and engineering. I was from a small school nobody ever heard of. A guy who took up this race and four months later won the gold medal. And I had predicted it. All this was a fantasy. Then the sunglasses. And they wanted to make me more of a fantasy. But did anybody stop to ask if the sunglasses were prescription? My eyes have been sensitive to light since the fifth grade. Without glasses I can't see the next hurdle. The rawhide cord necklace was just a gift from my college roommate. 'Chains of bondage,' right? We were way ahead of Mr. T," Moses says, chuckling. "Look, I was just a college boy with Photograys. What was so disturbing about that?"

Andre Phillips, who has finished second to Moses in races—not including the U.S. Olympic Trials, however, where an indeterminable virus probably cost him a berth on the U.S. team—was just starting high school and showing interest in the hurdles in those days. "I remember Ed on TV at the Olympics in Montreal with the [sweat suit] hood up and the glasses," says Phillips. "The dude had come out of nowhere and there he was and you still couldn't see him. No face. Edwin was like the Lone Ranger. No. He was more like a ghost. The Ghost. He was there, but he wasn't. He was—like, wow!—hands-off, alone, cool. I really got into the hurdles after that."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Related Topics
Gladys Moses 1 0 0
Edwin Moses 47 0 2
Ed Moses 5 0 0
Myrella Moses 2 0 0
Lloyd Jackson 1 0 0