It has been slightly more than a year since the dream began to take shape, the 1000-to-one shot that would come true when an obscure physics student named Edwin Moses ran 151 glorious steps to gold in Montreal. Now reality has been firmly established once again, the familiar hurdles looming as large as ever. The coach is begging; the Olympian is smiling.
"It there any way you people can accommodate about 12 of us who will be late?" said the Morehouse College track coach, Lloyd Jackson, to the school cafeteria. "Is there any way at all, maybe for us even to take the food out? We need to get this workout in. Fine. Thank you."
So Moses and the others will eat. Where will they run?
"Oglethorpe isn't available," said Jackson.
"I'm sure you'll find something," said Moses. "You always do. What about that high school, Avondale?"
Makes you appreciate a good track, 'cause that one gets gummy when it's hot."
"You ain't kidding."
By late March of 1976, only the dedicated figure Filberts of U.S. track were beginning to watch this fellow Moses. He was a rather ordinary quarter-miler and a rather ordinary hurdler who, along with Jackson, decided to meld these skills into one event - the 400-meter hurdles.
Although he had not even practiced the event "because I just didn't get around to it," Moses was accepted to run in the Florida Relays. Incredibly, his time was 50.1 seconds. Before the race, he was uncertain what would happen After the race, he had qualified for the Olympic Trials.
From that point through his world-record performance in the Games, everything broke right for Moses. Almost literally, he got better every step of the way. Unlike stars like Steve Williams and Marty Liquori, Moses stayed healthy. Even his negative moments had a way of turning out well.
"In the Division III championships in the rain, my glasses fogged up and I ran right into the 10th (and last) hurdle, never got off the ground," he said. "That kept me from running in the big NCAA meet. But it was a blessing in a way, because we pooled our NCAA money with our Olympic trials money and went to the AAU meet in LA just before the trials.
"I'd never seen the favorites in my event before, so this was good. And even though I ran fourth there I was confident, because I'd done a whole lot wrong, including tying up and hitting No. 10 again, and still run 48.99.
"Before the Olympic finals, I was not nervous at all. I just figured my time had come. It was either now or never. I hoped I'd not trip over anything, and I wasn't sure I'd won 'til I got over 10 - that last barrier."
Most witnesses recall the victory lap, with Moses and silver medalist Mike Shine embracing one another now and then, as much as the race itself. Later came the deluge from fandom. All of a sudden he was as famous as he once was anonymous - and unprepared for it.
"The phone would ring from 8 a.m. on," he said. "There were 50 phone calls a day for a week and a half. I didn't get to enjoy home (Dayton, Ohio) that much. Sometimes I'd go to a friends house to get away from it. Then I visited a cousin in New York. I was safe."
In Montreal, there were the usual whispers of top athletes, himself included, being offered under the table payments by shoe companies. To which Moses says: "Maybe I'll go into it if they legalize it. Tempting. It was tempting. That's all I can say."
Moments before, Moses, on an academic and athletic scholarship at Morehouse, had offered the typical lament of the amateur athlete, adding, "I wish I could make $400,000 or $500,000 a year."
Later, Moses and three other Morehouse runners leave the gun to take a reporter to his hotel. Outside, there is a Cadillac parked and a teammate points to it and then sweeps his hand toward an ancient Plymouth across the street.
"And here we have the car of the world-famous Edwin Moses," he cries. Only Moses seems to be able to unlock it. Enroute to the hotel, teammate Kirk Butler insists Moses would be much more appropriate hurdling through airports for Hertz than O. J. Simpson.
"Go, Ed. go," he cries, mocking the elderly cheer-leader in the commercial.
Whenever Moses gets depressed with his fate, at having to scramble about town for adequate places to practice and the study-train-study existence before and after meets, he opens the most recent letter from John Akii-Bua to realize his overall good fortune.
In that February letter, the '72 Olympic 400-meter hurdles champion writes from Uganda that he could not reply earlier "because I was burying my sisters." He added that his wife had recently suffered a miscarriage. Moses and Jackson were concerned because Akii-Bua had not written in a month.
For the future, another Olympian name excites Moses, Juantorena, the Cuban wonder who is built like a tight end and scored that rarest of Olympic doubles in Montreat, the 800 and 400 meters.
"I'd like to get him in the quarter," said Moses. "We both have strength over that distance. But I think I have a bit more speed than he can use his strength. I don't know. It'd be tight."
Moses expects to earn his degree from Morehouse in about a year. The future may well include medical school, and it also may well include residence on the West Coast.Jackson, frustrated that Morehouse has chosen not to underwrite several of his ambitious projects, said he will join the staff at Cal State-Irvine in September.
Always, in the far reaches of Moses' mind, is Moscow in 1980, possibly trying for medals in the open 400 and also the 400 hurdles.
"Last year we learned as we went along," said Jackson, who is also a minister, "and the Man Upstairs gave us confidence. All we wanted was a chance - and we got it.
"Moses is realistic, having experienced so much good fortune while others, some as talented, dropped out for reasons ranging from injuries to politics.
"I'm skeptical to say anything about 1980," he said, "because you can look forward so much and then not make it."