ROME, SEPT. 1 -- Edwin Moses tonight gave the United States its first gold medal at the world track and field championships with a spectacular photo finish in the 400-meter hurdles before compatriot Jackie Joyner-Kersee barely missed breaking her world record in winning the heptathlon.

Moses, 32, finished just inches ahead of Danny Harris of the United States and Harald Schmid of West Germany. The U.S. hurdles star from Atlanta, who turned 32 on Monday, crossed the finish line headfirst in a meet-record 47.46 seconds, .04 of a second faster than the old mark he set at Helsinki in 1983. It is the fastest time in his specialty this year.

Harris and Schmid each clocked a 47.48, but Harris outleaned Schmid for second. The United States had gone the first three days of the meet without winning a gold medal.

Moses, who had won 121 races from 1977 until Harris beat him in Madrid on June 4, thrilled the crowd here with his narrow victory. After a fast start off the blocks, he was way ahead until coming off the last hurdle when both Schmid and Harris began to catch up.

"A very difficult race for someone of my age," the bearded Moses said after waving a stuffed toy pig from the victory stand as he received his medal. "I sensed they were coming, and I leaned out with all my determination. But I felt I had it all the way, no matter how close they were.

"My strategy was to get a good start, which I did. I took the 10th hurdle conservatively, and beared down till the finish."

If Moses was thrilled with his triumph, Joyner-Kersee was somewhat disappointed because she fell just 31 points short of topping the record 7,158 points she established for the seven-event heptathlon in Houston in 1986.

After being on a record pace early, she needed to run the 800 meters -- the program's final event -- in 2:14.09 to give her a record. Her best time in the event had been 2:09.32. But after two days of competing in sweltering conditions, she managed 2:16.29.

"It just wasn't there," said Joyner-Kersee, who still finished 664 points ahead of second-place Larisa Nikitina of the Soviet Union. Jane Frederick of the United States was third with 6,502 points. "I set very high standards for myself, and I get upset when I don't reach them. It was as if I hit a wall at the 700-meter mark."

In other finals today, Billy Konchellah of Kenya captured the men's 800 meters in 1:43.06, fastest time in the world this year; Tatiana Samolenko of the Soviet Union won the women's 3,000 meters in 8:38.73; Sergey Litvinov of the Soviet Union won the hammer throw again at 272 feet 6 inches, a meet record; and Irina Strakhova of the Soviet Union won the women's 10-kilometer walk in 45:11.

Six athletes collapsed from the 90-degree temperatures during the 10-kilometer, but only one, Lorraine Jachno of Australia, required hospitalization. She was released after several hours and returned to the athletes' village.

It was obvious the conditions bothered Joyner-Kersee a great deal. Monday she had the fastest time among the 25 heptathletes in the 100-meter high hurdles; she was No. 1 in the high jump (6-2 3/4), reached 52-6 in the shot put and had the fastest time (22.95) in the 200. Her 4,256 points was a first-day record.

Today, she won the long jump at 23-5 1/4 and was second in the javelin (149-10) prior to the 800.

After watching Moses regain superiority today, Schmid said, "I thought I was ahead at the end. Moses has never been in trouble like this before."

It took several minutes for the judges to show the pictures of the finish before it was established that Moses had come across just several inches ahead of Harris, who was just a hair ahead of Schmid.

When the result was announced to the roar of the crowd, Moses broke into a broad smile, then climbed into the stands to embrace his wife and his mother.

Aside from Moses and Joyner-Kersee's success, there were hopes that the U.S. gold drought was indeed ending today after Americans placed well in trial heats for the 110-meter high hurdles and the 200-yard dash.

Greg Foster set a meet record today of 13.20 in the 110-meter hurdles in a first qualifying heat, shaving .02 of a second from the previous mark he set during a semifinal four years ago in Helsinki.

Foster was quick out of the blocks and clipped several hurdles on his way into the semifinals. In his semifinal heat, he advanced with a runner-up 13.41 to 13.34 by Britain's Jon Ridgeon. Mark McKoy of Canada (13.42) and Jack Pierce of the United States (13.45) were one-two in the other semifinal.

Other first heats had been won by McKoy in 13.50, Ridgeon in 13.46, Pierce in 13.61 and Stephane Caristan of France in 13.44.

Calvin Smith, the 100-meter world record holder before Canada's Ben Johnson broke it Sunday, qualified comfortably for the 200-meter dash (20.62) along with compatriots Wallace Spearmon (20.82) and Floyd Heard (20.37).

Linford Christie of Britain, the European indoor 200 champion, failed to show up for the start of the race with an official explanation that he had pulled a muscle. But the Briton has been arguing with team officials and his coach.