There was something unusual about this track star. It could have been the receding hairline, but it wasn't especially that, or the gray that is now flecked in his beard, but it wasn't really that, either.
It was the way he looked. So casual. Red sweats, extra baggy, one pants leg a bit shorter than the other, tight elastic grabbing at his ankle. It was the weekend knock-around look. This is how people in America dress when they jog or play touch football. But Edwin Moses, the Joe DiMaggio of track, dressed like this?"Edwin is the last one of a kind," Myrella Moses, his wife, was saying. "He doesn't wear those shiny bright tights like those guys who are out there styling, trying to be noticeable. Look at Edwin. He's so different."
"Some of these younger guys I race against don't even know who John Kennedy was," Edwin Moses said.
"Or Bob Beamon," Myrella added.
"Well, maybe they know who they are," Edwin continued, "but I'm sure they have no idea who Tommie Smith and John Carlos are."
Later on, Myrella asks her husband, "How do you want to be remembered, Edwin?"
"Oh, I don't know. ... The last of the Mohicans," he says.
"A gap-toothed one at that," Myrella shoots back.
Moses smiles with his lips shut.
Away from the hurdles, he is a package deal. You ask to interview Edwin Moses and you get Myrella Moses, too.
"I used to do his interviews," Myrella says.
Truth be told, she still does.
But at the 400-meter hurdles, Moses is all by himself, so alone and so incredibly good. He won the Olympic gold medal in 1976. He won it in 1984. He would have won it in 1980, had there been no U.S. boycott. And, one more thing. He will win it in 1988. Count on it.
"When I'm running at my best, no one can beat me," Moses said recently. "They just don't have what it takes. They're always going to be behind. They are about five meters behind me, based on my best time against their best time. They will chase me."
This is not an arrogant man speaking. That is the voice of confidence you hear. And if Moses, nearly 33, can't be certain about his trade, who in the world can?
For nearly 10 years, he never lost a race. One hundred twenty-two times from 1977 to 1987, he raced all comers on tracks around the world. He never finished second. He has broken 48 seconds, once an impenetrable mark, 27 times, including his world record of 47.02, set on his birthday, Aug. 31, in 1983.
But, most of all, there was the winning streak. It was phenomenal. Everyone now calls it, simply, "The Streak." Exactly nine years, nine months and nine days after he lost to West German Harald Schmid, he lost to American Danny Harris. That was a year ago in Madrid. In between, he was invincible.
And he plans to keep on being so. Hardly overlooking Seoul, Moses already knows he will compete in 1989 and has hopes of being around in 1992 to go for another gold medal in Barcelona.
"I might be the last person ever to have a shot at four gold medals in a running event," Moses said. "No one has ever won gold medals 12 years apart in a running event, not to mention 16 years. A discus thrower can compete at age 40. There's no way you can run hurdles when you're 40 years old."
The reason Moses gives for not wanting to give up after the autumn is that he has become very accustomed to his life as a hurdler, and what would he do anyway? There are the Cessnas he flies and the bird-watching and scuba diving he does and the MBA classes he takes and the Olympic bobsledding he wants to do, but they all are sidelights.
Then again, since he has become the United States' longest-lasting, most consistently impressive Olympic gold medalist, Moses has made a career out of sidelights.
"I'm either everywhere or nowhere," he said.
He does an occasional country-wide TV commercial. Wearing pinstripes, he is an advocate for athletes' causes in the International Olympic Committee. He showed up in Calgary for a news conference during the Winter Olympics. He came to Washington for the U.S. Olympic Committee meetings this spring. He once spoke out about the sham of amateurism and the use of drugs in sport. What once were his issues - and a few others' - now belong to the sporting world.
"I never was afraid to say things and stick my neck out. I didn't mind trying to change the rules," Moses said.
"When he got into hurdles, he was barely breaking even financially," Myrella said. "Never in his dreams would he live in luxury. Now, Edwin's salary ranks right up there with the best in football and basketball."
"I'm good for one round with Mike Tyson," Moses said.
"His opponents say, `Moses drives a Benz and makes a million and if I beat him, I can get millions,' " Myrella said. "But what they forget is it took 10 years at the top to get here."
(BX) (BX) (BX)
Although The Race wasn't part of The Streak, it holds almost as special a place in the Moses biography. When The Streak was broken, and critics wondered if Moses was washed up, The Race told them he certainly was not.
Last Sept. 1, at the world championships in Rome, Moses could have lost. He had lost twice already that summer, once to Harris, the silver medalist in 1984 in Los Angeles; and a month later when he clipped the final hurdle on a wet track in Paris and fell while in the lead.
The loss that ended The Streak was almost as strange. Moses, a fast starter, held his usual lead, but, at the ninth hurdle, Harris caught up to him. As he went over the 10th hurdle, Moses' foot caught it, knocking him slightly off stride. The videotape showed Harris, a former Iowa State defensive back, watching Moses out of the corner of his eye. Given his chance, Harris took it and won by .13 in 47.56 seconds, the best time of his life.
Three months later, they were together again. The race in Rome was Moses' next-to-last of the year. "It was a long season," he said. He had come down with a virus that wiped out much of his two previous weeks of training. Both Schmid and Harris were there, the men on either end of The Streak.
Moses took the lead and led by two meters halfway through. But instead of increasing his margin, he was losing it. This was shocking. Moses went into the race with six game plans. "I have plans for everything. There is nothing I haven't ever thought of. You have to think before the race. You don't have time to think when the hurdles are coming every three or four seconds."
In this case, he stuck with his first plan as the race progressed: "Get out first and run like hell."
By the 10th hurdle, he was hanging on. He leaned toward the finish line. His time was 47.46 seconds, his fastest of the year. Harris and Schmid flashed in with 47.48s.
"It was my greatest race," Moses said. "Three guys within two one-hundredths of a second. That's something like eight inches."
And how did he win? "I know exactly how long 400 meters is," he said.
Moses, who tends to be a rather taciturn fellow, brightens at this thought. "They had their chance. They had me at my weakest. That was as good a chance as they will ever have to win a major championship with me in it. And they didn't do it."
"He is a very distant guy," Myrella said of her husband of six years, whom she met at a track meet in West Berlin. "You can't really figure him out."
Bob Kersee, the UCLA track coach who is married to Jackie Joyner-Kersee, has watched Moses for some years and has seen him uncover his emotions only once. As he was warming up in Rome, Moses was startled to see someone in his lane and had to pull up. Kersee saw Moses slap a hurdle in anger, then watched him walk under the stadium tunnel and lay down. "In a few minutes, he was fine," Kersee said.