Struggling to put in perspective the statistical esoterica that have grown up around Edwin Moses and the 400-meter intermediate hurdles is actually no more difficult than, say, beating Moses in the race. Of course nobody has accomplished that in nearly seven years. Ironically, it was only about seven minutes ago that people began to discover Moses: who he was, what he did and how really special an athlete and human being he had become.
When Moses won his gold medal in the 1976 Olympics he was a shy, unapproachable college kid—he didn't say much but used words such as "extrapolate." He wore a modified Afro and dark glasses and a rawhide thong necklace—gasp! What could that mean? Then in the summer of '77 began his astonishing streak of 89 consecutive victories (over-achieving statisticians at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials inflated this to 102 by including heats), many run over off-the-beaten tracks in Santiago, Viareggio, Bratislava, Taipei and assorted other magical stops to which not even ESPN has dared go. Moses has broken the world record in the 400 hurdles four times. He has run 17 of the 18 fastest times in history. Only three other men—Harald Schmid, John Akii-Bua and Andre Phillips—have broken 48 seconds in the event; Schmid did it three times, Akii-Bua and Phillips once. Moses has done so 27 times.
Moses not only never loses, he never comes close to losing. David Patrick ran his best race against Moses in Luxembourg last July and finished .06 of a second back. "I think Edwin must have been sick that particular day," says Patrick. Schmid, Moses's erstwhile rival from West Germany and the last man to beat him—Berlin, Aug. 26, 1977; they should build a monument on the site—hasn't come near him since. Schmid once gave in on a Swiss TV talk show, saying, "What do you expect of me? I'll never beat this guy."
For Moses nowadays the 400H is his personal preserve, indubitably his race and hardly even a contest anymore so much as a performance, a show. And now, ladies and gentlemen: In our center ring, please welcome...Edwin Moses and His Hurdles.
July 29, 1984
If ever there was such an introduction, Moses surely would opt for a little warmup monologue to take note of his physics studies, along with his background in civil engineering—and explain how this expertise helps him kick some serious hind end every time out. Moses would follow this with several biochemical one-liners concerning limb length and body movement and then unload his really dynamite stuff featuring computer readouts of his endurance training or respiratory system. At some point, one hopes sooner rather than later, Mrs. Moses, the former Myrella Bordt, of Berlin and the Greek Isles, who once sang lead in a reggae band, would cut off her husband, as is her wont, cry out enough already, and implore him to get on with the gig. Which he would do, taking approximately 47½ seconds to run over 10 hurdles 36 inches high, to the inevitable conclusion, victory.
Wait. What's that? What does Moses do? Moses runs over the hurdles? Correct. And right there, maybe that's the problem/solution. In order to open up the event to valid competition maybe they should stack Moses's lane with high hurdles (42 inches). Let him try those babies on for size while everyone else stays on the intermediates.
Precisely half of Moses's 6'2" height is legs. In track lingo he's "split high"; his 37-inch inseam forced him to wear pre-cut jeans extremely high-tide long before Michael Jackson made the look fashionable. ("You want to see my moonwalk?" Moses says, chuckling.) And Moses's 9'9" stride, gloriously picturesque, economical and downright Secretariatian, enables him to practically float down the track whether a hurdle is under him or not.
As Myrella Moses says, delineating her husband—the phenomenon, the institution, yes, all right, the legend—with more clarity than any numbers could, "Edwin's advantage is that the other fellas actually have to jump over the hurdles."
Now is that fair? The volume of hue and cry over why our most enduringly brilliant Olympian isn't more celebrated on his home shores is rapidly approaching a crescendo. In Europe Moses is mobbed in public, hounded by the media and cornered by children, who say things like, "We know you, Edwin Moses. Smile. Show us your gap." In Taiwan, 5,000 fans once watched him work out—by himself.
Plainly, his quiet personality and the fact that his surpassing excellence is contained within a tiny bubble within only a slightly larger bubble in the overall American sporting scheme are factors contributing to his semianonymity on the domestic front. What may be more important is that the 400H—once dubbed "the man-killer," so treacherous a physical undertaking it was—is considered by Moses a mere "hobby—arts and crafts, sport and science." That he was gifted with the perfect body for it, a probing mind to take apart the event and explore the thing to its finite limits, and the work ethic to demolish all previous human limitations—"Edwin is hurdling, body and soul," says his brother Irving Jr.—all this has added to the overall impression that what Moses does is easy. Thus, not very earthshaking. And yet that may be the ultimate measure of his greatness.
"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.
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."
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 world...one-word 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."
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."
Myrella Bordt was an independent movie set and costume designer, fluent in English, when she met Edwin Moses in West Berlin in the summer of 1980, shortly after he'd lowered the world record for the third time, to 47.13, on a dimly lit track in Milan. She was an admitted track groupie and such a fan of Moses she had his picture on her bedroom wall. He says it was over her bed; she says she wasn't that kind of fan. "He looked so intriguing," says Myrella. "It was just one of those crushes. He was a peanut head—look at how tiny his head is—but I knew this was the guy. He was gorgeous going over the hurdle—the look, the form, the mood it portrayed. He was compelling."
Moses had just concluded what he refers to as his "troubled years." He was criticized for not running indoors. He was criticized for not running outdoors in the U.S. in 1978. Moses's rejoinder that he was busy taking 21 hours his final semester at Morehouse wasn't enough. Here the world was asking what Moses might do against Nehemiah in the highs or against Alberto Juantorena in the flat 400, and all he wanted to do was go off and study physics? Can't a black guy get his degree?
Moses wouldn't play ball in other ways. He moved to California and refused to join or run for any track club. Instead, he and Rono—who at the time was the world-record holder in the steeplechase, 5,000 and 10,000—formed their own outfit, just the two of them, calling it the Utopia Track Club. Moses spurned coaches, ignored advice and shunned traditional training methods. He picked his spots and his meets, and he recalled what Jackson had said: Don't let them force you to run when you're not ready. When he did run, "I used to walk away from guys," Moses says. "There was just no challenge, no thrill. I was stagnating, bored. The event was boring. Then came the '80 boycott. It was a dark time.
"I know I alienated a lot of people, but those were the days coaches and agents and promoters were ripping off the athletes. I felt they all wanted a piece of what I'd earned myself. Track and field was such a parent-child relationship—the athletes were kids being ordered what to do, or else."
Of Moses's continuous domination of the intermediate hurdles without benefit of a coach, Walker says, "Edwin's knowledge of the event is so infinite as to make any coach superfluous, possibly an unnecessary confusion. That's if he could find anybody who knew more about hurdling than he did, which would probably be impossible. All Ed needs is somebody to hold the watch."
On more than one occasion Moses has said, "I don't need anybody."
But probably he did need somebody—Myrella.
Phillips calls Moses Team Ranger now, and Myrella "Tonto—only she is much more beautiful." Gordon Baskin, a low-key former banker, is Moses's new business manager. Ken Yoshino, a physical therapist for the U.S. women's volleyball team, serves in a similar capacity for Moses. Myrella does the phones, the pictures, the vegetables, the secretarial duties. She holds the watch, too.
"Given the political exigencies, those old stories about Ed were to be expected. At the same time they had nothing to do with what he was about," says Young, who's now studying for a doctorate in theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. "He was always fiercely independent. He couldn't be exploited. He took pride in his work. But there was something missing. I see a joy and brightness in Ed that wasn't there before. Being in love has produced noticeable changes."
Vivacious and exotic, irreverent and supporting, Myrella has forced Moses to open up. "I talk too much during interviews; he has to open up to shut me up," says the girl Moses calls Beanie after a cartoon character. Beanie has made a concerted effort to change the Moses image—from his speech delivery to his close-cropped hairstyle to the bright (mostly red) colors he dons for battle. "She even changed my underwear," Moses says, "to bikinis, polka dots, the hot stuff."
"Nobody wears that boxer trash anymore," says Myrella. "Your clothes had more holes than Swiss cheese. Remember that picture of you stretching with the holes right in your crotch?"
"I guess I was a low-budget act," says Moses. "But what do you expect for a track bum? You went from those kinky black cowboy boots to respectability. On foot to a Mercedes. You've come a long way, too. You didn't get to Rome until I took you."
If Moses had met Myrella in Berlin some three years earlier, Aug. 26, 1977, to be specific, she might have seen him lose. It came after four meets in six days, all over Europe. It was defeat No. 4, career. There haven't been any others.
Does the champion remember what it was like to lose? "I don't consider that a loss," Moses says. "At least I know I didn't get beat. I've seen a picture of me at the tape. I'm smiling, laughing. It was no big deal. I knew I'd messed up. I had a don't-give-a-damn attitude. I made multiple mistakes. I just correlate the race like that. I wasn't ready. So I didn't get beat. The next week at the World Cup I was up to my old tricks. I beat Schmid by 15 meters. Look, winning isn't the reason I'm in this. Somebody wrote I had a pathological hatred of losing. Like I was sick. I lost a lot in high school and college. Maybe as often as I won. I just didn't think about it in terms of losing. I was preparing."
Does Moses remember the feeling when he did lose? "No," he says, with finality.
With Myrella along, the milestones kept accumulating. No. 50 came in Berlin the week Edwin and Myrella met. No. 60 came in 1981 at the Mount SAC Relays when Moses actually had to come from behind to beat Phillips. "Ed was beaten," Dick Hill insists to this day. "Phillips passed him after eight and it was over. Then Moses reached back somewhere and you could see he recognized peril. Moses keyed on 10, attacked the track and Phillips's eyes went to the ground. He was questioning and Moses roared by him.
"I often wondered what this hurdling machine would do when challenged that late. What a competitor! Moses was like a karate expert slashing through all the bricks. With one move he demonstrated everything we teach at the Olympic training center—fight, concentration, mind-set, body control, a kinesthetic sense of awareness of all combinations. It was awesome."
Doubtless Moses's two most satisfying races were in last summer's world championship (which he won with a shoelace flying loose) and his current world record in Koblenz, established on his birthday, Aug. 31. He had sat out 1982 with a lingering case of pneumonia and leg injuries and, in his absence, Phillips, Patrick and David Lee had all markedly improved. Was he too old? Had he lost it? Was he still wholly Moses? The champ dusted them all.
Since Helsinki, Moses's streak has enveloped the historical legacies of sprinter-hurdler Harrison Dillard and shotputter Jim Fuchs, both of whom won more than 80 contests in a row in their specialties. Moses's only two remaining, uh, hurdles are the 116 consecutive meet victories of shotputter Parry O'Brien and the 140 straight of high jumper Iolanda Balas, the Romanian woman whom Moses's suddenly publicized record has turned into an overnight sensation. Yo, Iolanda—tell us about jump number one four oh.
Moses himself points out that shotputters and high jumpers get more than one chance every meet, several chances, in fact. He still suffers attacks of peeve when such things are overlooked. And he is quick to feel a slight.
Last spring a Los Angeles Times story about a 62-year-old masters class pole vaulter who had won his 126th straight vault ended with the line, "Eat your heart out, Edwin [87 in a row] Moses." Eddie J didn't even crack a smile. "A cheap shot," he said. Moses was furious when an L.A. meet promoter recently told him he wasn't a draw for television and refused to pay him as much appearance money as Lewis, Decker and Steve Scott. But shortly after that, at the Pepsi Invitational at UCLA, where Moses hadn't appeared since 1977 when he broke the world record for the second time, he was greeted with a thunderous ovation that swelled as he strolled up and down his lane, saluting the crowd in return with both hands. This long-overdue recognition of a man whose time has finally come was a splendid moment which surely will be re-created very soon just a few miles east.
"Gold mania," Moses says. "I think I do have to win for me and the streak to reach an adequate place in history. If I lose, everything accomplished in the past won't be useless, no. But unfortunately that's the way it may be perceived. Being this good is a dilemma. It's almost as if I've painted myself into a circle. So much winning.... The irony is that it seems as if the final chapter must be that I lose. I don't want to quit on top just to save face. I'm thinking of '88 even now. As long as I'm winning, I'm running. I dedicated myself to that a long time ago. That's why I train so hard and prepare myself. I won't let my thoughts be diluted with expectations and tensions and questions about the streak. If I feel ready, there's no way I won't win."
The other day in Newport Beach, Bob Mathias got up to speak at an Olympics-affiliated cocktail party. "Edwin Moses," he said. "I know you're going to win. I know it. But good luck anyway." Bob Mathias, the youngest Olympic decathlon winner; a two-time gold medalist; a man who was there; a man who knows about hope and intentions and hype and pressures. Bob Mathias still had the nerve to say that. Edwin Moses just chuckled in his mysterious way.
Can't a black guy win a hurdles race without this terrible burden?