Edwin Moses’ incredible winning streak of 122 races | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Edwin Moses’ incredible winning streak of 122 races

5 December, 2021
Moses on his way to winning the Olympic Gold in Los Angeles in 1984
Moses on his way to winning the Olympic Gold in Los Angeles in 1984

He may be commonly regarded as the greatest 400m hurdler in history, but for the heart of his incomparable career he was forced to show great patience as, through no fault of his own, he underwent a seven-year period without a global title. In addition to his running, Moses was also an innovative reformer in the areas of Olympic eligibility and drug testing.

Moses is a pioneer in the global anti-doping movement, the chairman emeritus of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), and a former member of the Executive and Education Committees of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). In 2000, he was elected the first Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy, an international service organization of world-class athletes.

Moses has collaborated on a number of projects over the years, including on the development of the world’s first random, out-of-competition drug testing program for what is now USA Track & Field; on a white paper detailing the outlines of what would eventually become the WADA, as part of the 1999 Duke Conference on Doping.

Birth and Education

Edwin Corley Moses was born on August 31, 1955 in Dayton, Ohio.His father was a Tuskegee Airman. As a kid in grade school, Moses built volcanoes, dissected frogs, collected fossils and launched homemade rockets.

With both his parents being educators, Moses took academics more seriously than most youngsters, though he also competed in sports. When his high school basketball coach cut him from the team and the football coach kicked him out for fighting, Moses turned to track and gymnastics. “I found that I enjoyed individual sports much more,” he said. “Everything is cut and dry; nothing is arbitrary. It’s just a matter of getting to the finish line first.

“Any individual sport is basically a gladiator sport. Back in the old days only one guy would walk out of the arena. In track, it’s basically the same thing.” Rather than seeking an athletic scholarship, Moses accepted an academic scholarship to Morehouse College in Atlanta, majoring in physics and engineering. The school didn’t have a track.

Montreal 1976 Olympic Games

Moses used public high school facilities around the city to train. Mostly, he competed in the 110m hurdles, 400m and 4x100 relays. Just once before March 1976 did he enter a 400m hurdles race. But once he started with the event, he made unbelievable advancement with his huge and economical 9-foot-9 stride and qualified for the U.S. team for the 1976 Summer Olympics.

Three athletes, all from the United States, have had long-standing world records in 400m hurdles. Glenn Hardin broke the world record three times and was the record holder for over 21 years, between 1932 and 1953. Edwin Moses set his first record in 1976 and improved his own world record three times. His held the world record from 1976 until 1992, when it was beaten by Kevin Young at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Young’s record stood for 29 years, until Karsten Warholm broke it at his homefield of Bislett in 2021. On August 3, 2021, Warholm broke his record again at the Tokyo Olympics final. The new world record is now at 45.94.

As a 20-year-old, unknown scholar-athlete from a renowned black college, Moses burst upon the international scene at the Montreal Olympics. Not only did Moses win the gold medal in his first international meet, he set a world record of 47.64 on July 25, 1976, breaking John Akii-Bua’s mark of 47.82. His eight-meter victory over Mike Shine was the largest winning margin in the event in the Olympics.

“Edwin and I were ships passing in the night,” Shine said. Despite being the only American male track athlete to win an individual gold, Moses was not received with warmth by the public. Perhaps it was because of his serious expression, modified Afro, dark glasses and rawhide thong necklace. He said that his major regret was that training for the Olympics had interfered with his studies, his grade-point average dipping to 3.57.

At Morehouse, where he basically coached himself, he was known as “Bionic Man” due to his improbable, fierce workouts. He took a scientific approach to analyzing his performance and developing his training methods. The method paid off in his breaking his own world record with a 47.45 in Los Angeles, on June 11, 1977.

After breaking his own world record the following year at the Drake Stadium with a time of 47.45, Moses lost to West Germany’s Harald Schmid on August 26, 1977 in Berlin; this was his fourth defeat in the 400m hurdles.

Moscow 1980 Olympic Games

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Moses broke his own world record again, running an incredible 47.13 on July 3, 1980 in Milan.

Moses, who received his B.S. in Physics from Morehouse in 1978, was prevented from winning his second Olympic gold medal when President Carter ordered the U.S. to boycott the Moscow Olympics in 1980. However, he received one of 461 Congressional Gold Medals created especially for the spurned athletes.

It took a day or two for Moses to find out who won the men’s 400m hurdles at the Olympic Games Moscow 1980.Since he couldn’t be in the race, Moses had little interest in the outcome. East Germany’s Volker Beck claimed the gold - everyone thought Moses had in the bag if not for the U.S. boycott.

Also in 1980, Moses openly challenged the hypocrisy of the rules that prohibited amateurs from accepting money for competing and making endorsements. He believed that everything should be above-board rather than under-the-table.

He recognized the disastrous affects that rampant use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes could cast upon track. “Somebody had to say something,” he said. “What are these people doing to their bodies? Is winning worth that price? I don’t think so.”

For much of his career, Moses was not appreciated by sports fans, who viewed him, especially in his early years of success, as sullen and self-contained, a hurdling automaton. Not until years later would he be viewed as a respected statesman.

After missing the 1982 season because of injury and illness, Moses came back the next year and had the race of his life. It was at the inaugural 1983 World Championships in Helsinki, he finally had the chance to once again grab a global gold, making the most of the opportunity by defeating the West German Harald Schmid – the last man to beat him – by a victory margin of more than a second.

On his 28th birthday, on August 31, 1983, Moses raced to another world record, 47.02, a hundredth of a second faster than his dream. Moses couldn’t stop smiling. “Well, I haven’t had a (personal record) for three years,” he said with a laugh.

Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games

In the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, Moses was selected to recite the Olympic Oath, but forgot the text during his presentation. Moses then went on to regain his Olympic title in style with a dominant victory. Moses became only the second man to win two 400 hurdles, getting off to a quick start, winning in 47.75.

Three years later, Danny Harris, who took the silver that day in Los Angeles as an 18-year, made sure the reign ended in Spain for Moses. On June 4, 1987, in Madrid, in their first head-to-head confrontation since the Olympics, Harris ran a 47.56 to beat Moses by .11 seconds. By the time, Moses had won 122 consecutive races, set the world record two more times, won three World Cup titles, a World Championship gold, as well as his two Olympic gold medals.

After that defeat, Moses won 10 races, including beating Harris at the 1987 World Championships in Rome, collecting his second world gold, leaning across the finish line in 47.46 to nip Harris and Schmid by about six inches.

Seoul 1988 Olympic Games

But at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, though the 33-year Moses ran his fastest Olympic final (47.56), he finished third. The winner was teammate Andre Phillips, who had idolized Moses as a high school student and had lost to him more than 20 times, including at the Olympic Trials.

After retiring from track, the competitive Moses switched to bobsledding. In a late 1990 World Cup race at Winterburg in Germany, he and long-time US Olympian Brian Shimer took a bronze medal for two-man teams.Moses finished seventh at the 1991 World Championships.

In 1994, Moses received an MBA from Pepperdine University and was inducted into the United States’ Track and Field Hall of Fame.When asked how he would like to be remembered, Moses answered, “Hopefully, as the guy nobody could beat. Maybe in the years to come, people will understand the things I have accomplished and realize, ‘Wow, this guy was really something. Nobody’s ever going to do that again.’”

Neither his competitors nor his dreams could keep up with his performances. Bounding over the 10 three-foot hurdles, taking an unprecedented 13 steps between hurdles instead of the usual 14, he was a remarkable combination of speed, grace and stamina.

The Streak of 9 years, 9 months, 9 days

Moses was the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder in the midst of an undefeated streak that eventually spanned nine years, nine months and nine days. From 1977 to 1987, Moses won 122 consecutive races including 107 straight finals. “I have the killer instinct,” Moses said. “It’s ego. When I’m on the track, I want to beat everyone.”

The streak, the longest in track and field history, ended when Moses finished 0.13 sec behind fellow American Danny Harris at an international meet in Madrid. After the defeat, Moses said, “I lost because I am not in great shape right now.” “And Danny had the run of his life. I lost my balance on the 10th hurdle and that upset my rhythm.”

He recaptured the gold at the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984, added a bronze in 1988 in Seoul and is considered the greatest 400-meter hurdler of the 20th century. But there’s a void on Moses’ resume where the 1980 Olympics should be, a gap in his extensive personal archive that holds every medal he has won, every uniform and start number he has worn, every souvenir he has collected as well as clippings, photos and letters of congratulations from around the world.“I wish I could have had the 1980 Olympic gold medal under my belt,” said Moses.

Valiant Contributions to Athletes

In 1979, Moses took a leave of absence from his job with General Dynamics to devote himself to running full-time. In the next two years, he was instrumental in reforming international and Olympic eligibility rules. At his urging, an Athletes Trust Fund program was established to allow athletes to benefit from government- or privately supplied stipends, direct payments, and commercial endorsement money without jeopardizing their Olympic eligibility.

Moses presented the plan to Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee, and the concept was ratified in 1981. This fund is the basis of many Olympic athlete subsistence, stipend and corporate support programs, including the United States Olympic Committee’s Direct Athlete Assistance Programs.

As a sports administrator, Moses participated in the development of a number of anti-drug policies and helped the track and field community develop one of sports’ most stringent random in-competition drug testing systems.

In December 1988 he designed and created amateur sports’ first random out-of-competition drug testing program. For many decades, Moses, a physicist, has been a leader in creating a structure and protocols that have significantly reduced the use of illegal, performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals in athletics.


Moses also made winning look so easy. “It just happens that my slow is faster than most athletes’ fast,” he said. “People either think that I’m a freak or that the other guys aren’t any good.”Or, as pointed out by Leroy Walker, the U.S. Olympic track and field coach in 1976: “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.”

Since election in 2000, Moses has been chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy, which seeks “to promote and increase participation in sport at every level, and also to promote the use of sport as a tool for social change around the world”. Several dozen Olympic and world champion athletes, through the Laureus Sports for Good Foundation, work to assist disadvantaged youths around the world.

His personal best performances were 13.64 for 110m hurdles in 1978, 47.02 for 400m hurdles in 1983 and 45.60 for 400m in 1977. Moses is a vegetarian, humanitarian and advocate for peace. From 1986 through 1988, still in the prime of his running career, he suffered from an undiagnosed ruptured disc, discovered by MRI years later.

Moses has one son, Julian, a volleyball player, born on August 29, 1995, in southern California. In 2017, Moses suffered two traumatic brain injuries within months, but recovered to be able to walk again.

Awards and Honours

Despite the U. S. boycott of the summer games in Moscow, Moses was the 1980 Track & Field News Athlete of the Year. A year later, he became the first recipient of USA Track & Field’s Jesse Owens Award as outstanding U. S. track and field performer for 1981.

He received the AAU’s James E. Sullivan Award as outstanding amateur athlete in the United States in 1983. He was being named as ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year in 1984. Moses also shared the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year with American gymnast Mary Lou Retton in 1984, the same year he took the Athlete’s Oath for the 1984 Summer Olympics.

In 1984, his hometown of Dayton renamed Miami Boulevard West and Sunrise Avenue “Edwin C. Moses Boulevard.” In 1999, Moses ranked #47 on ESPN’s Sport Century 50 Greatest Athletes.

In May 2009, the University of Massachusetts Boston awarded Moses an honorary doctorate for his efforts to maintain the integrity of Olympic sports and for his use of sports as a tool for positive social change. He was bestowed the prestigious Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

(The author is the winner of Presidential Awards for Sports and recipient of multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc. He can be reached at [email protected])