Los Angeles — Getting there is all the fun for 400-meters hurdle champion Edwin Moses, who owns 87 consecutive victories dating back to 1977. The string is especially impressive considering the ten 36-inch barriers he must negotiate every time out.
People meeting Moses for the first time have a tendency to look at his back to see if there is a key sticking out with which to wind him up.
But this is no elongated robot, merely a very analytical, practical man, who times his workouts with a wristwatch accurate to 100ths of a second. Basically Edwin is a loner who devises his own practice schedule, is into stretching exercises linked to Oriental martial arts, and sometimes runs cross-country to build his endurance.
But what about that record - that marvelous record of 87 consecutive wins? Doesn't the pressure of thinking about it bother him just a little?
''No,'' Moses says, ''it doesn't. I take the attitude that my record is already history. I just figure I have to continue to run fast to win. The way you do that is to work hard so that you will continue to improve. I can't speak for others in track, but I've always enjoyed the training, the competition, and the travel. I like to visit new places and see new things.
''As far as conditioning is concerned, I've always tried to peak just before my most important races,'' continued the winner of the 1983 Sullivan Award as the nation's outstanding amateur athlete. ''Sometimes I watch videotapes of myself, not so much to see what I'm doing wrong, but to see what I'm doing right. I've always preferred running in Europe because it's cooler there. But it's also important that you learn to adjust to conditions, whether it's wind, weather, or a slow track.''
Asked if there is a moment of truth during the race when the 400-meter hurdler can estimate his finish, Moses replied:
''The moment of truth comes with every barrier because somehow you have to get over them all. But it is possible to recognize when you've fallen behind in a race, and it is also possible to still win if you catch your mistakes quickly enough. The problem is that you've always got more time to adjust than you think , so you have to discipline yourself not to accelerate too quickly and destroy your rhythm.''
Unlike most 400-meter competitors, who take anywhere from 13 to 17 running steps between barriers, Moses is the first world-class hurdler to have trained himself to use 13 steps through the whole race. This probably explains, more than anything else, his world-record time of 47.02 seconds.
Can anyone beat him?
''Naturally I like to think that they can't,'' Moses replied. ''But I have noticed that my competitors are working harder and trying different things. In fact, their attitude seems to be that if they are going to lose, they are going to lose in style. I think there is more motivation among them as a group than there used to be, but I am also capable of getting myself up mentally for meets.''
Although Moses claims there is no ideal height or weight for a 400-meters hurdle champion, his 6 ft. 2 in., 170-pound body seems ideally suited for the event. This is a man who is built like a series of finely crafted coil springs just waiting to be let loose.
Stories are told about Edwin dunking a basketball as a 5 ft. 8 in. schoolboy and using his vertical leg kick to reach a 10-foot high rim with his foot.
In the 1976 Montreal Olympics, he embarrassed the field, winning his gold medal by nearly 10 meters.
Where Edwin Moses goes from here, of course, is onto the US Olympic track and field trials at the Los Angeles Coliseum June 16-24.
A graduate of Atlanta's Morehouse College, where he studied physics, Moses is probably the closest thing America has to a guarantee for an Olympic gold medal.
He not only wants to run his hurdles specialty in the Olympics, but also become a member of the US 4 x 400 relay team. His interest in the relay is no recent decision, but something he says he has been thinking about for a long time.
Moses in front of a microphone, handling press questions from the floor, is as commanding as he is on a track. His voice, which seems to erupt from the bottom of some distant cave, is clear and filled with authority. He doesn't hesitate when speaking, either.
Those who try to put words in his mouth are about as successful as someone trying to stuff an elephant into a thimble. But if the question is legitimate, he'll not only answer it with style, he'll enlarge upon it!