Edwin would go on to scuba-dive, wind-surf and fly private planes for excitement. Young Edwin jumped off the diving board into the deep end. From the beach near his aunt's home near Daytona Beach, Fla. he swam far out into the breakers away from everybody else. He could dunk a basketball at 5'8". He wore glasses and braces—the kids called him Cagey and Metalmouth.
John Maxwell Jr., Moses's track coach at Fairview, recalls that a pulled hamstring kept Moses out of competition for the last weeks of his senior season. In one meet a Fairview sprinter pulled up—quit—after 60 yards of the 100-yard dash. Moses asked him why. "If I wasn't winning then, bro, I wasn't going to be winning at the end," the kid said.
Such an attitude must have been anathema to the youngster who would go off to Morehouse on an academic scholarship, grow out of his body and systematically improve his running times over the next three years until, back home playing pool with his dad during Christmas break 1975, he would make the offhand announcement that "I'm thinking about the Olympics."
According to Josiah Young, the roommate at Morehouse who gave Moses the rawhide necklace and later, as the Rev. Young, a United Methodist minister, married Edwin and Myrella, this confidence was late blooming. One day in the dorm some guys were fooling around feigning basketball moves and trying to touch the ceiling. Moses leaped up and put his head through a partition. "Oh, man, do you really know your ability?" Young inquired. Young was studying classical ballet at the time; he would go on to perform with the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble in New York—and the two collegians debated their choice of academic disciplines till dawn. "Ed didn't understand how I could sit and read Shakespeare or Paradise Lost while listening to some Billy Coleman jazz, and I didn't see how he could do calculus to the same music." Another Morehouse student from Detroit tagged Moses "Eddie J." Moses named Young "Joey D." "I don't know what the J stood for," says Moses. "The D meant Destructo. Everything Josiah touched—records, stereo needles, pens—seemed to break."
At college, Moses considered his mentor, Jackson, "a chaperon" more than a coach. He trained with another friend, "Cleveland Steven" Price, a star high school hurdler, also from Ohio. But Morehouse had no track, and everybody had to find his own way to train. "Athletes aren't privileged at Morehouse," Moses says.
In the fall of 1975 Moses scrawled some goals on a lucky coconut he kept on his desk. They were times for the 110 high hurdles and the 400 flat. Note: no goal, no time, no thought of the race he would positively own in just a few months. "Even in January I still never dreamed of anything world class," Moses says. But on March 26 at the Florida Relays in Gainesville, his life changed. Moses ran 13.7 in the highs, 46.1 in the 400 and 50.1 in the intermediate hurdles. He didn't win any of those races, but he served notice. Walker, the Olympic coach, was a witness. Walker had coached Lee Calhoun, the only two-time Olympic gold medal-winning high hurdler in history. Walker had been a hurdler himself. "Anybody who knew anything about hurdling could see that if they were pointing this guy to something other than the 400 intermediates, they had the wrong race," he says. "His size and speed; his base, the ability to carry the stride; his 'skim,' what we call the measurement of the stride over the hurdle—he had it all. As we watched him that spring, analyzed his races and charted his progress, Moses perceived the minute techniques of the event so clearly. He believed in the race. And endurance! He could run the drills we gave him, a 400 flat, then into the lane for a 200 over hurdles...why, he did that last 200 in 25 seconds. Most guys couldn't carry that over a flat! It was obvious nobody would handle him in Montreal. I went to Europe and told them: 'You're all running for second.' "
Moses arrived at an exquisite, disciplined style, the form of a hurdling god. "Compared to Ed, everyone else looked like roosters with their tails on fire," says Dr. Dick Hill, who developed Milburn and Willie Davenport at Southern U. From the beginning, Moses had something no man had had before: the ability to take precisely 13 steps between each pair of hurdles. Glenn Davis, the Olympic champion in 1956 and '60, began his career with 13 through the first six hurdles and then 15 through the rest. He set his world record (in 1956) doing 15 all the way. That was the Fred Flintstone age. Wes Williams also had experimented with 13 steps in the 1969 NCAAs. But Phillips is the only other hurdler to attempt 13 throughout the race. He's succeeded a couple of times.
Moses's usurpation of the event wasn't without mishap. At the NCAA Division III championships in Chicago in 1976, he fell in a driving rainstorm when his shades fogged up. At the AAUs at UCLA in June, his first meet under fire against the name hurdlers—Ralph Mann, Jim Bolding and Quintin Wheeler—Moses shot ahead and was coasting when he gave in to the temptation to look back. Moses hit the seventh and ninth hurdles, stumbled over the 10th and still finished in 48.99—in fourth place. The distinguished Yale coach, Bob Giegengack had proclaimed it "impossible" that Moses was running 13 steps.
Following the UCLA meet, in a telephone conversation with Moses, Young asked his friend what had happened. Eddie J told Joey D that he'd made a simple mistake. That he'd not make it again. That he was ready to win the gold medal at the Olympic Games. Moses hasn't looked back again. "I wasn't worried," he says of that crisis. "I knew how fast I could run. I hit those sticks and broke down and still went under 50. With no mistakes I'm gone. All I had to do was extrapolate it out."
The rest is extrapolation. The 48.30 at the Olympic trials, an American record. The 47.63 in Montreal, a world mark. Subsequently, the running alone, uncontested—the most difficult running. The solitude and the beginning of track and field's most phenomenal streak. Of that mystical Canadian afternoon in 1976, silver medal winner Shine says: "Edwin Moses and I were ships passing in the night."