They are some of the nearly 1.7 million deaths worldwide from this raging pandemic.
Although he’s now 65 and well past the days when he was track and field’s most dominant competitor, Moses is still Dayton’s most-celebrated athlete ever. And he’s still a force in the sporting world through his ongoing work with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and his long-time involvements with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) Agency (USADA).
And those latter two groups scored a major victory Thursday when a court upheld – though it cut the proposed penalty length in half – a ban against Russian athletes competing under the nation’s flag at the next two Olympic Games, as well as soccer’s World Cup in 2022.
Moses – the former chair of WADA’s Education Committee and the chair emeritus of USADA – has long been a critic of Russia’s years-long, state-sponsored doping scheme for its athletes.
That, and especially his work with Laureus, the independent charity that funds and promotes the use of sports as a tool for social change – has kept him anything but home alone in recent years.
In the six months prior to COVID’s shutdown of the world, he made six international trips and five tours around the U.S. His last venture was a trip to Japan in February.
Once the worldwide scope and severity of the coronavirus was evident, Moses hunkered down in his home and has not traveled since.
He even cooks at home.
But then if you know Edwin Moses you know that, like everything he does, is not as simple as it sounds. He doesn’t just “cook”, just as he never just “ran.”
The best 400-meter hurdler ever
Growing up on Kimberly Circle in West Dayton, Moses admits he was the living embodiment of the TV nerd Urkel, right down to the scrawny body, braces and thick glasses.
Moses appeared on the StarTalk podcast of Neil deGrasse Tyson last month and told the astrophysicist about those early Dayton days: How he collected butterflies, insects, fossils, had a chemistry set, played the saxophone and read constantly.
His late, much-beloved mother, Gladys, a Dayton Public Schools teacher, told me how she required Edwin and his two brothers to read 10 books every summer.
Moses has said he was bullied a lot as a youngster, especially on his way home from school. But he found he could escape his tormentors by running up a steep hill. While they were huffing and puffing, he would pull away.
And once he got to the Olympic tracks, no one caught him either.
He became the best 400-meter hurdler the world has ever known. He won gold medals in the event at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and the 1984 Los Angeles Games. He likely would have done the same at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, but the U.S. and several other countries boycotted the competition because of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Moses did win bronze in the event at the 1988 Seoul Games, as well.
And in between 1977 and 1987, he won 122 consecutive 400-meter hurdle races. It remains the longest unbeaten streak in track history. In that span he set four world records and became known as an unparalleled innovator when it came to technique and training.
Moses graced the covers of Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and Jet. He was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, inducted in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, had his likeness appear on the Wheaties box and had two Dayton streets renamed Edwin C. Moses Boulevard in his honor.
And just as Moses once stood out on the track, he claims he now has a presence in the kitchen.
His dad, Irving, who was a Tuskegee Airman, was also a cook in the service and he passed that knowledge on to his sons.
“When I was a kid, I had a newspaper route and when I’d finish my papers on Sunday morning, my job was to come home and cook breakfast for my mom,” Moses said.
Today he especially knows his way around a stove and his garden that he gets much of his produce from.
“I cooked with it every day,” he said. “I’d just go out and snip something off to add to my meal.”
“My grandmother was a Geechee from South Carolina my father was a New Smyrna Beach (Fla.) fisherman who sold vegetables. I grew up with oyster dressing and I made that, a turkey leg and wings, collard greens, purple Korean yams and homemade cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.
“Trust me, I can cook now.”
Actually, just like Culkin, Moses has been anything but home alone during this pandemic.
When COVID postponed the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo – and now has the 2021 Games there in doubt – Olympic hopefuls found they were unable to properly train, plan and even dream.
Moses knows the feeling firsthand because of the 1980 boycott that denied him and so many others.
In order to help today’s athletes – to “pay it forward” as he put it – he and his business partner, former USC hurdler and current broadcaster Leslie Maxie, turned his new Icon 2 Icon venture into a webcast on April 28 that brought 1980 Olympic hopefuls together with today’s suddenly unmoored competitors.
As he’s dealt with people from around the globe during the pandemic, he’s heard how the initial response was different in other places than it has been with some here in the United States.
“In Italy, Spain, France, Germany and so many other places, it’s not been politicized like it has been here,” he said. “When the first wave hit in those places, there was no compunction. Those people wore masks and stayed at home. In Italy and Spain they did that for two months.
“If you walked out on the streets in Paris and were more than 600 meters from where you lived, you got a ticket. On the third ticket, you could be taken to jail. There were penalties, but people wanted to do the right thing for the good of everyone else and the country.
“Here it was instantly politicized like no place else in the world. And now we’re paying a price.”
As he’s tried to help younger athletes through these times, Moses has also been working on a documentary of his life and he’s 500 pages into a book he’s writing, He’s also become involved in two start-up businesses and said two major companies are working with him on diversity programs.
“I’ve had all these projects in the works for a long time,” he said, “but now, with the pandemic, I’ve gotten five years of work done in six months.”
Do the right thing
After graduating from Fairview High in 1973, Moses didn’t get any athletic offers and instead took an academic scholarship to Morehouse College, the Atlanta alma matter of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Majoring in physics and engineering, he carried a 3.85 GPA and later parlayed that into a master’s degree at Pepperdine University.
Morehouse had no track so he trained running at high school facilities or around campus. While he ran the 400 meters, he had never run a 400-meter hurdles race until just four months before the Montreal Games.
When he showed up in Canada – a still shy young man with a moderate Afro, dark glasses and rawhide necklace – he found himself running in his first-ever pair of new track shoes on a rubberized track instead of the dirt and cinder he had learned on.
He told deGrasse Tyson: “I felt like a Ferrari with four big wheels on it.”
Even though it was his first international meet, he said he felt like he was going to win. And he not only did, but he set a world record in the process.
But while competing in Montreal, he first took notice of Eastern Bloc athletes who were freakishly muscled and unexplainably dominant. It was first introduction to doping.
“The women had more muscle than I did,” he said. “They had hairy arms and legs and beard stubble.”
As he thought back, he managed a laugh: “When I saw those East German using Afro Curl under their arms, I knew this was something else! I was like, ‘What in the hell am I lookin’ at?’”
Those women decimated the U.S women and the American track and field men didn’t fare much better. And from then on, Moses was driven to push the drug cheats out of the sport. He spoke out, encouraged out-of-competition testing and eventually became involved in WADA and USADA.
When the group took on Lance Armstrong, the drug enhanced champion cyclist who was admired by many and denied any wrongdoing, they were quickly attacked for what some – like today – claimed was fake news. Soon there were death threats.
“It was a very difficult time,” Moses said. “But I stayed committed to what I believed was right. And then he (Armstrong) finally admitted it on the Oprah show.”
Moses commitment to do the right thing has made him embrace the people who have stood up in the Black Lives Matter movement, especially the athletes who have taken a stand.
“Sports people are like anybody else – doctors, teachers, lawyers – and have a right to express their feelings on an issue,” he said.
He thinks this social movement will keep its legs because so many people of different races and backgrounds have been involved and because the issues included everything from health care and poverty to climate change and race relations.
And in one way, he thinks the pandemic may have helped the cause.
Some of the most jarring attacks of unarmed blacks have been captured on video and because of the pandemic everyone is stuck in their homes with their TVS on. People couldn’t help but see the disturbing images.
“And when you do see them, they go right to your heart. It doesn’t matter what color you are,” Moses said. “That could be your brother or sister. A lot of people are left asking themselves what they would do if they saw that happening in front of them.
“Whether you agree with it or not, you are forced to see it and understand it in different way and then it’s up to you if you’re going to act on it in a positive matter.
“And I’m hopeful because Dr. King said, ‘The arc of justice always bends towards righteousness.” For Moses, that arc has swept him though the many projects Laureus has tackled in the past few years – over 100 on six continents – everything from homelessness and street violence in the U.S. to injuries from land mines in Cambodia, discrimination in Germany, AIDS awareness in South Africa and orphaned children in Peru.
There are many more initiatives on hold until we are safe from this pandemic and can fully return to daily life.
And for Edwin Moses that will then mean no more home alone.
He needs to be back in the world, helping so many others over life’s hurdles.