Hurdle legend Edwin Moses reflects on career, rooting out sport’s doping

With two Olympic golds and a series of then world records, Edwin Moses hurdled his way to considerable success in the 1970s and 80s, but it has been obstacles to fair competition that he has been tackling since then.

Throughout his track career as a 400-meter hurdler, the 64-year-old American suspected many other athletes of cheating.

U.S. hurdle legend Edwin Moses speaks during an interview in New York in February 2020. (Kyodo)

“I didn’t want to compete in a sport where the athletes — everyone except yourself and a few other people — were taking drugs. So I decided to try to change it,” he told Kyodo News as he reflected on his career both on and off the track in the run-up to the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Moses, who earned a bachelor’s of science in physics from Morehouse College and a master of business administration from Pepperdine University, is known for helping develop the first random out-of-competition drug test program, which was implemented by the U.S. Track and Field Federation in 1989.

It would later pave the way for the test programs done by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Japan Anti-Doping Agency, he said in an exclusive interview.

Moses, a former chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Education Committee and currently chair emeritus to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, first suspected athletes had been doping while competing in the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

He said the women from East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, and Poland, had more muscle than he did.

“The women on the U.S. team were completely blown away. And the men on the U.S. team: I was the only man that won an Olympic gold medal in an individual (sprint) event in 1976,” said Moses.

He “knew something was wrong,” he said, adding that doping would begin in the United States itself in the late 70s.

Asked about the World Anti-Doping Agency’s decision in December to ban Russia from competing in the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics for its state-sponsored doping program, he said “the most extreme sanctions” were necessary.

“There are a group of athletes around the world, including myself, that just believe that if you don’t keep them from going to the Olympic Games as an ultimate penalty, then the behavior is going to continue because it has continued.”

Moses also talked about what it meant to win two Olympic golds, debuting with his triumph in his first international meet, where he set a world record of 47.63 seconds in the 400m hurdles at the 1976 Montreal Games.

“To win the gold medal is the ultimate in the sport, and it takes thousands of hours to get there,” he said. “After it happens, it’s almost — you’re so relieved that you can’t even enjoy it. Total relief, it’s a lot of pressure.”

He won his second gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, a competition he cherishes for the rarity of having competed in at home, let alone winning.

Between 1977 and 1987, Moses won 122 consecutive races, the longest streak in track history, and set the world record four times, the last when he clocked 47.02 in 1983.

File photo from September 1988 shows U.S. 400-meter hurdler Edwin Moses at the Seoul Olympics. (Kyodo)

It wasn’t until nine years later that his world record time was broken by U.S hurdler Kevin Young whose time of 46.78 still stands today. In 2018 and 2019, three more runners ran below 47 seconds.

Asked if he considered any runners good enough to nudge him out of fifth on the all-time list at the Tokyo Olympics, Moses acknowledged the recent sub-47 times but also tooted his own horn for nearly achieving the same feat years earlier.

“There have been quite a few fast times last year and this year, like one, two, three guys have run under 47 (seconds). That’s all fine and dandy. When I ran 47.02 — I’ve got the photo — my nose was 46.99 but they measured the chest,” he said, describing the moment he crossed the finish at the 1983 meet in Koblenz, Germany. “So, you know, it’s taken them 35 years to catch up to what I was doing back in the 70s and 80s.”

The Japanese government has designated the Tokyo Games as the “Reconstruction Olympics.” As part of Tokyo’s successful bid in 2013 to the International Olympic Committee to host the games, Tokyo organizers had promised to “showcase the recovery” of the Tohoku coastal region, which was devastated by the massive earthquake and tsunami that triggered a triple-core meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

“It seems as though they made a real big effort to recover that whole area,” Moses said in a February interview. “A lot of people, the whole thing was wiped out by the tsunami and the radiation in combination, so I think it’s a good thing.”

Although Moses, who retired from the sport in 1988, still has “dreams of getting up in the morning and heading to the track,” the elder statesman had been set to launch his new project “Icon 2 Icon” on the sidelines of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed until next July due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Moses had envisioned holding discussion panels on everything from esports, the empowerment of women in sports, and, of course, rooting out performance enhancement drugs. He said he was aiming to offer attendees a chance to hear from professionals.

The International Olympic Committee and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on March 24 — when COVID-19 had infected more than 380,000 people and caused over 16,000 deaths globally — postponed the Tokyo Olympics for one year, after reassuring the public on prior occasions that the games were to continue as planned. The games are now slated for July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.

In a recent phone interview, Moses said he was “all in favor” of the yearlong postponement of the Tokyo Olympics because athletes were having their training regiments disrupted by the closure of workout facilities due to mandatory social distancing measures.

“As an athlete and a former Olympian the most important thing to me was that the athletes have a fair — full and fair opportunity to absolutely compete at their best.”

In this new pandemic reality, Moses is unsure if “Icon 2 Icon” will launch in Japan next year, citing the unknowns of the novel virus. “We’ll see what happens with the Olympics in 2021. No one knows how this virus, (which causes the disease) COVID-19, is going to react or come back,” reiterating scientists speculation of a possible resurgence of the virus this winter.

Moses, in the interim, like the rest of the social distancing world, is connecting with other people over the internet. On April 28 he was the host of an “Icon 2 Icon” webcast with 1980 U.S. Olympians and upcoming U.S. team members discussing the intersections between the 1980 U.S. Olympic boycott to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and the postponement of the present games.

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