Tackling life’s hurdles a matter of passion and patience

NORMAN GILLER has met hundreds of sporting stars, and in Edwin Moses he says he has met one of the all-time champions, on and off the track

Edwin Moses on his way to Olympic gold in 1984

One of the best writing gigs I ever had was back-to-back scripting of the Laureus Awards, in the days when the annual event was staged in Monaco before they became a moveable feast.

Among my first briefs was an interview with the then new chairman Edwin Moses, who will be passing on his stellar thoughts at a SJA Laureus Lunch in Fleet Street next Thursday (click here if you want to check out the booking details).

All SJA members should make the effort to get there, because you will be in the presence of a super human who has wise words to share on all sports in general and the Olympics in particular. Believe me, he has the brain the size of Mars and can talk for Uncle Sam.

Moses famously went nine years, nine months and nine days without defeat in his 400 metres hurdles speciality event. On the way to 122 successive victories he won the Olympic gold medal in Montreal in 1976 and again in Los Angeles in 1984, robbed of an inevitable hat-trick by the United States boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games.

He was not even the best athlete in his own household when he appeared from nowhere to win the 1976 Olympic title. Edwin, who was always outrun by his younger brother, tried the “man killer” 400m hurdles for the first time in March 1976, and within six months had won the premier prize as he set off on his incredible winning sequence.

“There were many better runners than me,” he told me. “I just stuck at it while others with much more talent did not have the patience and perseverance. Dedication is vital for anybody wanting to make it to the top in any sport. If someone had told me at the start of 1976 I would be a two-time Olympic champion I would have laughed at them. I had not even heard of myself!

“I greatly believe that it is passion rather than an inborn ability that is the prime reason for success. You must have a good work ethic. I have seen many naturally gifted athletes fail simply because they were not prepared to put in the gruelling hours of training.”

Moses literally took a measured view of his event. “I studied great hurdlers like John Akii-Bua and your 1968 Olympic champion David Hemery,” he said. “They took 13 strides between the first five hurdles, then dropped down to 15. I trained to maintain my strength so that I could produce 13 strides all the way round.

“I used to get so focused before a race that I would have tears in my eyes. Never once did I take it for granted that I would win and I prepared meticulously for every race. People thought I was stand-offish, but it was just that I was totally single-minded and did not allow any outside distractions.

SJA members can question Moses on athletics, sport and the Olympics at our Laureus lunch next week

Since he retired from the track, Moses has become a powerful spokesman on ethics in sport. “One of the things I’m proudest of is that I never once used drugs,” he told me. “I detest cheating of any sort, and in my ideal world sport would be clean and a test of the best athletes not the scientists.”

I repeat these words here as a reminder to all sportsmen and women what it takes if you really want to be the best, and it gives just a flavour of what you can expect from Moses at Fleet Street’s Olde Cock Tavern next week.

IT’S very easy in the 140-character rabbit hutch in which we communicate on Twitter to make instant enemies. All I said was that England are seventh best of the eight qualifiers for the Euro2012 quarter-finals and I was suddenly submerged beneath a shoal of hate mail.

I was accused of being anti-English and blind to the talent of the team.

Our players trail in on-the-ball technique behind most of the teams left in the competition – with only Greece short of our ability. We cannot be faulted on our Moses-style work ethic, but I would like to see skill as well as sweat taking England farther in what has been one of the most open and enjoyable of all tournaments.

It is becoming evident that Roy Hodgson is what Napoleon always wanted, “a lucky general”.

The ball has run kindly for England (particularly that blessed cross from Gerrard against the Ukraine that led to Wayne Rooney’s magnificent header from at least six inches out), and I hope with all the Englishness that I can muster that Hodgson’s Heroes sink Italy.

But – in Moses-speak – there are a lot of hurdles yet to clear.


Thu June 28: SJA Laureus Lunch with all-time great Olympian Edwin Moses. Click here for booking details.

Tue July 24: Olympic media service and reception, St Bride’s Church. For more details click here.

Thu Dec 6: 2012 SJA British Sports Awards. An Olympic year extravaganza. Note the date in your diary now. Details to be announced soon.