January 19, 1981 12:00 PM

Of the dozen athletes competing in next month’s ABC Superstars, perhaps none is more deserving of the characterization than Edwin Moses. Yet he remains a virtual unknown.

At 25, Moses is the world record holder in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles, an exciting hybrid of the 110-meter high hurdles and the straight 400 meters. Until recently Moses’ specialty was run primarily in overseas track meets, rarely in the U.S. In 1976 he was the only American to win an individual gold medal in track at the Montreal Olympics, and since then he has lost his event only once. In winning the last 55 races, he has broken his own world record twice.

Moses was more reconciled to the U.S. boycott of last summer’s Moscow Olympics than many American athletes. Still, he complains, “I lost a lot of earning potential, and I lost publicity. I would have been one of the few Americans to win. The exposure I’d been counting on for four years went down the drain.”

For one thing, Moses wanted an opportunity to change his image. Competing in his prescription sunglasses (his high school nickname was “Shades”), he often appears unapproachable. That’s one reason he has begun wearing contact lenses. He has no coach and trains by himself. “In sports,” he admits, “I isolate myself purposely, but I’m not a loner in the rest of life.”

Moses’ outspoken views on the question of money sometimes rankle track officials. “It’s supposed to be an amateur sport,” he says, “but everybody knows it isn’t.” Top amateurs are primarily financed by “expense money” which, according to Moses, is “approved by silence.” Moses supports himself but refuses to be specific about the source of his income. For six months in 1979 he worked as an engineer testing military hardware at General Dynamics in Pomona, Calif., but he was forced to quit because he couldn’t manage a 9-to-5 job and train for the Moscow Games. He is currently negotiating an endorsement offer with a U.S. sporting goods company. “I’ve taken it upon myself,” declares Moses, “to do what I can for myself.”

He grew up in Dayton, Ohio, where his father, Irving, is an elementary school principal and his mother a curriculum supervisor. “He was a serious child,” remembers his mother, Gladys. As a boy, Edwin showed an aptitude for science and sports, lettering in cross-country football and track in high school. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta on an academic scholarship, earning a B.S. in physics in 1978. At Morehouse Moses ran both the high hurdles and the 400 meters but was not world-class in either event. So he turned to the intermediate hurdles, which are three feet high, six inches below the high hurdles. It is an event that requires speed, stamina and technique. Six months later Moses broke the world record while winning his gold medal in Montreal.

Confidence is surely a factor in Moses’ domination of his unusual event. “I haven’t reached my peak yet,” he says. “I don’t know what I’m capable of. I figure I have at least five more good years.” Though he has considered applying for medical school, he is putting future plans on hold until after the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

At 6’1½” and 170 pounds, Moses is a vegetarian who trains two hours a day—stretching exercises, a two-to-eight-mile run on a golf course near his Laguna Hills condominium and sprints on a nearby track. He never extends himself in workouts to the point of exhaustion. “I’ve been training less and less,” Ed Moses boasts, “and getting better and better.”

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