Edwin Moses was nonpareil in the one-lap hurdles; he ran 122 races without losing for nine years, nine months and nine days, from the mid-1970s to the 1980s. In the process, he also broke the World record four times.
Moses won gold medals at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics; he won the World Championship gold medals at Helsinki (1983) and Rome (1987) besides claiming the top honour at the World Cup in Dusseldorf (1977), Montreal (1979) and Rome (1981). Currently, Moses is the Chairman of the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Education Programme.
The recent revelation of the state-sponsored doping in Russia and the Russian athletics federation’s suspension thereafter by the IAAF had rocked the athletics world. The 60-year-old former champion hurdler, Moses, was reticent when asked to comment on the unsavoury incident.
However, during an interview with Sportstar, when asked what was the way forward for the IAAF and its president Sebastian Coe in the present circumstances, Moses said: “Obviously it’s a tough situation to be in. I have been a leader of many organisations and I understand that leadership starts at the top. When there is trouble, the responsibility ends at the top. So, when you become a leader of an organisation, you accept that. I am always concerned, and my biggest concern is the damage it does to the athletes in the sport and what the peripheral damage can be if they lose confidence in your organisation. And that’s why the rationale for clean sports and drug testing; if that’s the way they look at the top, why should we look at it any differently. And that’s dangerous.”
Question: Jesse Owens, Flying Finn Lasse Viren, Bob Beamon, Emil Zatopek, Edwin Moses, Frank Shorter have all left terrific memories, left a legacy. Can it ever be damaged by circumstances, as of today?
Answer: I don’t want to bash track and field. When I was running, track and field was great, and I appreciate being able to run when track and field moved into the marketing era. I had a lot of colleagues, a dozen or 15 iconic names, from people in East Germany to Russia and everyone around the world, whom I knew on a first name basis, because they were the true champions. I miss that part of track and field.
You must be very proud of what you have done for athletics; you were the face of a great sport in the 1970 and 1980s?
There’ve been a lot of athletes, iconic athletes that people know, like Michael Johnson, Usain Bolt; they are great athletes, but no one has even come close to dominating it for a sustained period of time. So, it’s very special for me.
The men’s 400m hurdles has been dominated by the US at the Olympics; 18 gold, 12 silver and 10 bronze medals…
It’s changed over the years. We had a period of time when Sanchez (Felix) won two Olympic gold medals (2004 and 2012). We had other great athletes from all over the world from time to time. Three Americans have won two Olympic medals in the event. I could have definitely won three, and if we had gone to Moscow (1980), four. So I feel like I kind of got short-changed. I should have had more than two gold medals. You have Americans Angelo Taylor, Glenn Davis and myself who have won two Olympic gold medals, and also Sanchez (Dominican Republic).
But the 46.78s by Kevin Young at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics has not gone down for 23 years now. What makes the 400m hurdle so unique?
The hurdles are moving at you just as fast as you are moving at them. It’s different from every other track event, because when you are running, you feel like the world is coming at you. Everything was moving at you, that’s the way I thought. There are lot of different elements. I wished I had competition when I was running absolutely at my best between 1980 and 1983. I was running 47.13s, 47.14, 47.17, 47.02. I was 15 yards ahead and I ran those times all the way by myself. I knew and I said it back in 1976-77 to Sports Illustrated, I could have run 46 flat under the right conditions and if I had competition. I was far ahead of my time, but I never had the opportunity to run under 47s.
Does it happen to top-class sportspersons, when running all alone in the last part of the homestretch, they prefer to amble across the finishing line?
In the 400m hurdles, you have to stay focused the whole race. The last hurdle is the most dangerous one because when you get to the end of the hurdles, you tend to lose your balance, coordination, strength... so it’s a dangerous race until the end. If one looks at the 1984 (LA) race, when I went over the 10th hurdle, I was extra careful because all it takes is a mental lapse to hit the hurdles. So, you have to make adjustments. In 100m, once you start, there’s no turning back; you have to be 100 per cent and there is no such thing as 98 and 99 per cent, maybe at the end of the race, there may be four or five steps when you are not accelerating any more. You cannot do that in my race, the 400m hurdles.
An amazing run of 122 unconquered races. Did you ever have the fear of losing at any time during this long stretch of nine years, nine months and nine days?
I never thought about races, and how I was going to perform. I had different elements in training which I looked at as an art form; so for nine months of the year I was practising that art form. I never thought what I was going to do when I ran against Harald Schmid, Danny Harris; I was always prepared. When the race started, I had already gone to my mind of different possibilities.
Were you hurt after losing (the gold) at the Seoul Olympics in 1988?
No, no, no. I think we ran three days in a row back then. Now they get a day’s rest. I was always pressing for an extra day between the semi-final and final back then, but the federation was not flexible. So, I never really got a chance to prepare; all I had was 48 hours for the final. That’s what it was. I was always at a disadvantage; I never ran my best races in the Olympics.
Most Western nations boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Did Seb Coe and Steve Ovett do the right thing by going to Moscow?
If the Americans had had the choice, lot of athletes would have gone. It’s just that we did not have a choice. We were in the middle of a Cold War – our country with Russia. There was a lot going on, political at that time – very, very political.
Have the 400m hurdlers become less ambitious to go after Kevin Young’s record?
It’s hard to do. It takes years to be able to even get into the 47s. Last year we did not see a lot of hurdlers doing even 47s. It’s a difficult event. I think the Kevin Young record is an aberration. It will happen only one time.
What is success and failure in sport, especially in track and field?
Track and field is a sport where most people lose over the course of their career. People lose more than they win. When you start at the bottom, the better you get planning. And when you get to a different level and in better competitions, you start losing again. Then you have to improve again and climb up the ladder into a higher level of competition and probably start losing again. So, at the end of the day, people lose more races than they win. It’s always an up and down barrel.
People like Michael Johnson are exceptions. But before Johnson started winning, he used to lose all the time. I was an exception when I ran my event for the first time in 1976, I was second, then I fell twice. I think I lost four races that year and did not lose again until 1977 and then I did not lose again until 1987. I think I lost six times in my whole time of running. I lost six times from 1976 to 1988. Everything I did was exceptional, no one does that. But I did not know if I was going to do all this. I never looked at a race like a competition, just an art form and like a ballet dancer; practise and prepare everyday all the time. And when the curtain goes up, you are ready. I never looked at it from a sporting point of view as most people would expect.
You said at a press conference that people should lose and comeback to win, when you were asked about Usain Bolt dominating the scene. But all this happened because Justin Gatlin tested positive, Asafa Powell tested positive, Tyson Gay tested positive and Yohan Blake, of whom not much was heard of in 2015 because of injury…
It’s more to do with track and field. It’s not only about World Championships and Olympic Games, because there will always be another World champion and an Olympic champion. They are looking at the next guy, after you retire after one or two Olympics. When I talk to people who have watched my career in the European meets, the first thing they mention is: “I saw you run time and time again against Schmid.” They loved seeing those races because it was dramatic and it was real. People knew that when the race started, the outcome can go either way, although I was the favourite. I won it like it was an Olympic Games every time. I ran against Schmid probably a minimum of 20 times, in three World Cups, two World Championships and all the other races, including the Olympics. People remember the drama of me running against Schmid or Harris or any of the other competitors. The other concept of winning an Olympic medal is nebulous. If your are physically not there, you can watch it on TV. So it was a golden era when I was running. It was like Willie Banks (sports and marketing promoter) getting the people excited during a trip to Japan. Even people like Evelyn Ashford, the Polish high jumper Jacek Wszoła are remembered for competitions they had with others. That’s what is lacking (these days).
You said Kevin Young’s 46.78s was an aberration. Would you say Bolt’s 100 (9.58s in Berlin 2009) and 200 (19.19s in Berlin in 2009) could also turn out to be an aberration?
All records are made to be broken. So we will see, we will see. There are women’s records that’s been around for many years. Tommie Smith’s record (his 200m record stood for 11 years), Bob Beamon’s record (his long jump mark stood for 22 years), my record was 16 years, which was beginning to get long. People still talk about Beamon. Even my event, people ask me, “Do you still have the record?” And I say, “no”.
The name Bob Beamon. What does it mean to you?
I know Bob personally, I talk to him on phone, so with John Carlos. Tommie Smith is a really good friend of mine. These guys are like me. They look at track and field from a purist’s point of view. We like competitions because, back in those days, they ran on Friday and Saturday nights in different cities.
There have been well over 1000 doping cases dealt with so far officially. There is the whereabouts clause, and out of competition testing. Have they proved to be a deterrent?
It’s absolutely a deterrent. It’s necessary. What’s happening now is that there’s a lot of research to find out why athletes are being enticed to use unusual methods and the psychology behind the people around the athletes; and so in most cases you will find that it’s not the athlete the only one culpable. There are lots of people behind the scenes. We want to make great efforts to go after those people.
Would you say Ben Johnson and Marion Jones, who had the potential to do big things for the sport, have been the worst instances to have rocked world athletics?
I don’t want to talk about everybody in doping. Those are all individual cases.
What should India do to improve in athletics?
There are lot of places in the world that need to develop a culture for athletics. They need to find a coach to identify the athletes they want to train, have the facilities and the financial backing of the federation to enable them to train, have coaches and physios who are knowledgeable. There has to be good anti-doping programmes, which sometimes take years to come up. There might be five people in the country to do a good job, but they have to be encouraged.
Which other sport do you follow?
I follow the NBA at the end of the season. I like the tournament action when the play-offs and conferences begin.
Which gold medal would you value the most, the Olympics or the World Championship?
The Olympics, no question about that.
Your thoughts on Rio Olympics?
It’s always interesting. I have been to so many Olympic Games. I don’t know whether I am going to be there (Rio) or not. When I used to be the Athletes Commission member, I used to be there at the Olympics. You miss so much when you cannot watch it on television. I like to really watch the Games on television.
A physicist with an MBA degree.
Was a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes Commission, Medical Commission and Ethics Commission.
Pioneered the development of anti-doping policies when he was the Chairman of the United States Olympic Committee’s Substance Abuse, Research and Education Committee.
Was a member of the Athletes Advisory and Executive Committees of the United States Olympic Committee.
Now he is the Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy.