With the athletics events starting today, otherwise known as track and field, the true heat of the summer Olympics starts to shine. Athletics is the perfect expression of the Olympic motto ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’) – the competition requires athletes to run faster, throw further, jump higher and leap longer than their rivals. With 2,000 athletes competing in 47 events, Athletics is the largest single sport at the Games.
Today’s hype stars such as Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, America’s Tyson Gay, and Jamaica’s Yohan Blake seem to come and go. There will always be rivalries and top stars. But if you take a look back, let’s say about 36 years, you’ll find an American by the name of Edwin Moses. Between 1977 and 1987, Moses won 107 consecutive finals in men’s hurdles throughout 122 consecutive races and set the world record for his event four times. Basically he was the man.
Moses was born in Dayton, Ohio. Having accepted an academic scholarship to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, he majored in physics and industrial engineering, while competing for the school track team. Morehouse did not have its own track, so he used public high school facilities around the city to train. Initially, Moses competed mostly in the 120-yard hurdles and 440-yard dash. Before March 1976, he ran only one 400m hurdles race, but once he began focusing on the event he made remarkable progress. His trademark technique was to take a constant 13 steps between each of the hurdles, pulling away in the second half of the race as his rivals changed their stride pattern. That summer, he qualified for the US team for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. In his first international meet, Moses won the gold medal and set a world record of 47.63 seconds.
After breaking his own world record the following year, Moses lost to West Germany’s Harald Schmid on 26 August 1977 in Berlin, his fourth defeat in the 400m hurdles. Beginning the next week, when he beat Schmid by 15 meters in Düsseldorf, Moses did not lose another race for nine years, nine months and nine days.
By the time American Danny Harris beat Moses in Madrid on June 4, 1987, Moses had won 122 consecutive races, set the world record two more times, won three World Cup titles, a World Championship gold, and earned his second Olympic gold medal in Los Angeles, where he was selected to take the Olympic Oath. After losing to Harris, he won 10 more races in a row, collecting his second world gold in Rome in August of the same year, and then he finished third in the final 400m race of his career at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. As of 1 April 2012, he still holds 25 of the 100 fastest times in the 400 meter hurdles.
In addition to his running, Moses was also an innovative reformer in the areas of Olympic eligibility and drug testing. In 2000, he was elected the first Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy, an international service organization of world-class athletes. Side note: he was also a vegetarian.