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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
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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

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One theory held that Moses's unofficial coach at Morehouse, the Rev. Lloyd Jackson, was responsible for the aloofness. Jackson had taken a solid stance: us against them. Jackson pumped up Moses with words and dreams a la Bundini Brown's coaxmanship of the young Cassius Clay. "I won't argue with that," Moses says. "We were proud to be from little Morehouse, against all the big guys."

Soon after 1976 Jackson would part with Moses to take a coaching position with Athletes in Action, from which he has since bounced around to several schools in California. "A fast-talking manipulator, a wicked guy," says Rod Milburn, the high hurdler, of Jackson. Moses remains noncommittal on Jackson's influence. The two now see each other only rarely at local meets.

Walker, whose North Carolina Central track teams often faced Morehouse, got to know Moses in the spring of '76 while advising him on a training program for the Montreal Games. "That image was Ed," Walker says. "He wasn't inarticulate or even introverted—he'd talk for hours around us—but to the outside answers. We even talked to his parents about it. Then we had difficulty even getting him to take a victory lap. That's just the way he was. 'I've done my job. Let the performance speak for itself. Now I'm going home.' You put two pictures of Ed Moses side by side, '76 and '84, and there's a drastic change."

To a layperson not privy to Moses's quietude, background and unprecedented advancement in the spring of '76 from an obscure quarter-miler to the fastest man in history over 400 hurdles—his 47.64 Olympic effort sliced almost .2 of a second off Akii-Bua's world record—the initial, and lasting, memory of him is a sequence of shutter snaps encompassing barely five minutes on an August afternoon in Montreal. Moses toeing the blocks. Moses flying over the sticks. Moses roaring down the stretch totally alone. Moses hugging runner-up Mike Shine. The two men jogging a victory lap together. Moses and Shine tripping in unison over the same hurdle. Moses and Shine, black and white together, laughing and embracing some more. It was such a heartfelt, warm, sincere kaleidoscope—what we like to think of as an all-American scene in the true spirit of sportsmanship—as to edge dangerously close to pure corn. A friend of Shine's made a videotape of the occasion with Dionne Warwick's What the World Needs Now (Is Love) as background music, which Shine copied and sent to Moses. All of this made it so much more unfathomable that over the next few years—as a public figure, a famous athlete, a hero of renown—Edwin Moses disappeared.

"I guess I expected to be recognized or doors would open or lights would flash or something," Moses says. "But it was like...nothing. The race, the gold, the Olympics. None of it...had...ever...happened."

Growing up in Dayton as the middle son of Irving and Gladys Moses, Edwin never lacked for motivation—in academics or athletics. Moses's father, who died last December of complications from diabetes, was a football center at Kentucky State. In Dayton he taught science and mathematics and was an elementary-school principal. Gladys Moses is a supervisor of instruction for the Dayton public school system. Books and science projects came before sports in the Moses household. At age seven Edwin pored over a children's encyclopedia. Later, with his brothers, Irving Jr. and Vincent, he launched homemade rockets, constructed volcanoes and model cars, dissected frogs. He was a budding artist (clay sculpture, sketches) and musician, playing the sax in the Dayton all-city orchestra. "I think I could've been Grover Washington Jr.," Moses says. And he delivered newspapers as well. When students were suspected of torching the school auditorium at nearby Dunbar High, Edwin chose to be bused to Fairview High, four miles away, where in the ninth grade he was one of some 20 blacks in an enrollment of 800. He took science and math in summer school for extra credit. "I was always the guy kids came to for help," he says.

Irving Jr. would go on to earn three college degrees. He's now an industrial relations specialist for Exxon in Houston. Younger brother Vince has just gotten a diploma from broadcasting school in Dayton. The brothers grew so similar in appearance that at family get-togethers Myrella has found herself in the kitchen pinching her husband's bottom only to discover it was her husband's brother's bottom.

"We always talked about doing significant work in our lives," says Archie Mays, a boyhood pal of Edwin's, who was the son of the Moseses' family doctor and is currently finishing up at Meharry medical school in Tennessee. Mays was a basketball star at Fairview and went on to play college ball at Iowa. Moses's size—5'8", 135 pounds as a high school senior—militated against an athletic career for him. Track was just extracurricular activity—like the sax. Even at Morehouse, Edwin ran for exercise, to alleviate the constant stress of the classroom. "Track was almost incidental," he says.

Except for this. When Moses went one-on-one in hoops or played baseball or raced or anything else, as Mays says, "There was no playing around even when he was playing around." Moses was always the smallest, always getting his braces bent in football, getting cut from the squad in basketball, being told he was too small. "Always the little chump," says his big brother. But he was intense, indomitable. Moses was taken to the Dayton Relays—a major social event in town—in the third and fourth grades and reveled in the circus atmosphere of a track meet. It's no wonder a fellow who had been discouraged by coaches would gravitate to running and jumping, the most individual of pursuits. In track they can't tell you you're too small. If you can do it, you can do it.

"Let me describe how we lived so you can get the feel," says Gladys Moses, a basketball, track and volleyball standout herself at Kentucky State. "Our house was at the edge of a park [and still is], so my youngsters could not only see land and playgrounds and swimming pools all around but they could walk right out of the backyard and be in them. Edwin was the adventurous one. He was unconfined. I thought he would kill himself before he was 10."

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