Large letters pasted onto the bedroom wall of Ed Moses' dormitory room at the University of Virginia spell out the Olympic motto: "CITIUS ALTIUS FORTIUS," which is Latin for faster, higher, stronger.

The artistically arranged cardboard cutouts provide a daily reminder to Moses of his goal for next year, the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. They also offer a succinct description of Moses' athletic evolution in the past two years.

In the fall of 1997, Moses, then a senior at Lake Braddock High, was a part-time breaststroker "of not much note," according to Pete Morgan, coach of the renowned Curl-Burke Swim Club in Burke. Moses preferred golf. He had never watched the Olympic swimming competition. He had no idea who the nation's top swimmers were.

Now, Moses is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 100-meter breaststroke by FINA, swimming's international governing body. Moses is not only a favorite to make the 2000 U.S. Olympic team, he is considered a threat to break the world record in the 100-meter breaststroke and a leading candidate to win an Olympic gold medal in that event next year. He also is seen as having a chance at another medal in the 200 breaststroke.

"He makes a lot of people who have been doing this a long time pretty jealous," said Jared Felker, a senior on the University of Virginia swim team.

As part of his preparation for this summer's Olympic trials, Moses will participate in a high-powered World Cup meet Nov. 17 and 18 at the University of Maryland, the first stop of a 12-city international tour.

What happened to Moses between late October 1997--when he gave up golf as his primary sport and joined the Curl-Burke Swim Club--and this August, when he posted the fifth-best 100-meter breaststroke time in history and the best in the world this year at the Pan American Games (1 minute 0.99 seconds), resembles a fairy tale. Only as far as Moses is concerned, the story is just getting started.

"I don't think there is any reason I should stop getting faster," he said. "That's what keeps me going every day. If I ever had a time that didn't drop, I wouldn't be happy about it."

A Meteoric Rise

Moses' sudden and improbable rise, combined with his irrepressible confidence, has not only fired jealousies, it seems to have produced something of a defensiveness in swimming's inner circle. Because Moses is so new to the international scene, many of the sport's elite have only heard about him or read about his achievements.

"He might be the best breaststroker in the world, but he's still got a long way to go even to prove that," said John Collins, who coaches Cristina Teuscher, the third-ranked woman in the world in the 200-meter individual medley. "Having the best time, even the best stroke, doesn't assure you of being on the Olympic team."

Moses' first--and only--major international meet was the Pan Am Games last August in Winnipeg. That meet was considered a second-tier event, far less prestigious than the Pan Pacific championships that took place a few weeks later in Sydney. The U.S. "A" team went to Sydney. Moses and the U.S. "B" team went to Winnipeg. His stunning world-best time there obliterated the Pan Am Games record and earned him a promotion to the "A" team. It also got the attention of the high-profile swimmers in Sydney.

"It certainly put a lot of pressure on the breaststrokers at the Pan Pac Championships, knowing [Moses] had performed that well," said U.S. Olympic men's team coach Mark Schubert, who also coaches at the University of Southern California. "It's certainly very unusual for somebody to make that kind of quantum leap in his event."

Those who have watched Moses' times drop nearly 10 seconds since the beginning of 1998 wonder if he can continue improving through the Olympic trials, Aug. 9 to 16 in Indianapolis. The top two finishers in each event will go to the Olympics, Sept. 15 to Oct. 1. Moses has mentally penciled himself in to make the U.S. team for the 100 and 200 breaststroke. The way he sees it, he has all of the advantages: He is young. He is not burned out from years of training. He is getting bigger and stronger; he has grown an inch in the past year.

The World Cup meet in College Park will do nothing more for Moses than provide another gauge of his progress. Though prize money will be offered--$10,000 for first place in each event, $5,000 for second, $2,500 for third, plus a $40,000 bonus pool that will be divided among any swimmers who break world records--Moses would lose his collegiate eligibility if he were to accept it.

Still, this will be Moses' biggest test yet. He will face for the first time Belgium's Fred deBurghgraeve, the 1996 Olympic and 1998 world champion and current world-record holder in the 100-meter breaststroke. He will also go against Australia's Sam Riley, the 1992 and 1996 Olympic bronze medalist in the 100 breaststroke, and American Kurt Grote, the 1998 world champion in the 200. Moses' coach at Virginia, Mark Bernardino, says he has come to expect the spectacular from Moses.

"His rise has been meteoric, but I don't think it's been by accident," Bernardino said. "The people in the swimming community have been shocked by his ascent, but few people know how hard this man has worked. What Ed does--and what the rest of the team also does because of Ed--is a routine that's excruciatingly painful and taxes every muscle in the body."

In addition to the standard twice-a-day swimming sessions, Moses performs a vigorous, hour-long routine with a medicine ball several times a week. He does ballet exercises against a makeshift barre. Twice weekly, in a dingy stairwell that climbs several stories behind the pool, Moses performs a grueling exercise he invented: jumping up and down the stairs, two at a time, for 30 minutes.

Moses displays the zealous idealism of a college sophomore who, to this point, has suffered no major setbacks. He rattles off enormous Olympic goals as casually as if he were reciting his course load.

"I think," Moses said in his dorm room recently, "the [Olympic gold] medal is mine to win. No one is going to be able to take it from me."

Moses was referring to his best event, the 100 breaststroke. Asked about the 200 breaststroke, he shrugged.

"I expect to win the gold medal in that, also."

The Water Boy

Glenn Edward Moses II was born in Loma Linda, Calif., to an Air Force colonel father and a schoolteacher mother. His only sister, Jessica, was 2 at the time. By the time Moses and his family moved to Burke before his ninth-grade year, they had lived--by virtue of military transfers--in Ohio, Illinois, Alabama, Egypt, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Moses' father, Glenn, now the University of Maryland's ROTC coordinator, played baseball at the Air Force Academy. He wanted his children to participate in athletics when they were older, and he considered swimming a suitable introduction to physical fitness. Moses and his sister each took swimming lessons beginning at about 18 months old.

"He was never afraid of the water," said Moses' mother, Sissy, a teacher at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax. "They had trouble getting him to swim at the top of the water. He liked to swim at the bottom of the pool."

Moses actually preferred ball sports: soccer, basketball, baseball and eventually golf. When the family moved to Burke, he took a job driving the ball-retrieving machine at the Burke Lake Golf Club driving range. He spent his free hours hitting golf balls. He joined the golf and swim teams at Lake Braddock High, hoping to earn a college golf scholarship.

By the summer of his senior year, he was the captain of the golf team, but a college scholarship wasn't forthcoming. It was time, he realized, to commit himself to swimming. Practicing three months a year with the high school team wasn't getting him anywhere.

In late October 1997--after golf season had concluded--Moses joined the Curl-Burke program, training on a lighter schedule than the more veteran swimmers. They swam nine times a week, he swam four.

"He was nothing special at first," Morgan, the Curl-Burke coach, said. "Just a real strong athlete."

In January 1998, Moses competed in his third meet, but his first in a pool measured in meters, rather than yards, and therefore longer. He completed the 100 breaststroke in 1:09.80 and the 200 in 2:39.09. The times, Morgan thought, weren't bad. Moses seemed to be developing rapidly.

In March 1998, five months after Moses joined Curl-Burke, he entered a junior national meet in Charlotte. To prepare, he performed the "taper and shave" racing routine for the first time, meaning that, as the meet neared, he eased his training and shaved his body hair, hoping to make himself as fast as possible for the meet.

When he arrived at the pool, Moses scanned a list of competitors and observed that he was ranked 35th or 40th in the 100 breaststroke.

"He declared on the first day in Charlotte that he was going to win," Morgan said. "You like to have your athletes confident in competition, but that really threw me for a loop."

In the 100-yard race, Moses fulfilled his prediction--and then some. He improved on his previous best time by nearly three seconds, won the race and, for good measure, broke the meet record.

A week later, at the senior national championships in Minneapolis, Moses won the bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke with a time that, he said, earned him a top-30 world ranking and bettered his January time by six seconds.

That performance changed Moses' life.

"Everybody wanted to talk to me," he said. "There were 10 or 15 college coaches. It was crazy."

Student of the Sport

With scholarship offers suddenly coming from all directions, Moses visited Southern Methodist, Georgia, Auburn, Maryland and Virginia. Moses chose Virginia, even though it lacked a lofty reputation in swimming. It was close to home. Bernardino, the Cavaliers' coach, had swum in college with Morgan. The atmosphere seemed right.

That summer, Moses began a full swimming routine for the first time. He joined the rest of the Curl-Burke team in their twice-daily workouts, hoping to ease the transition to a collegiate program--and a notoriously demanding one, at that.

Despite his attempts to prepare, Moses could barely keep up during his first semester at Virginia. Sometimes, in the middle of a drill, he would turn over on his back and call it quits for the day.

"He failed all the time in practice," Bernardino said. "But I don't think he was frustrated. That's the unique thing. He was challenged."

Morgan noticed the same trait.

"There wasn't any hanging of the head or 'I can't do this,' " Morgan said. "His attitude was, 'That's all I can do for today.' "

On the top shelf of Moses' closet is a stack of books. "Nutrition for Dummies." "The Sports Nutrition Guidebook." "The Mental Edge." "Power Eating." "Performance Massage." "Eating for Endurance." "Earl Mindell's Vitamin Bible." "Training for Endurance." If you pull out a book and thumb through it, you will notice that it is highlighted, underlined and dog-eared. Moses also possesses a stack of swimming videos--of past Olympic Games, past swimming greats, and of his stroke.

Moses' father said his son voluntarily came home by 10:30 every night this past summer, adhering to his own strict training regimen despite frequent invitations to stay out late with friends.

"Part of my success," Moses says, "is under cover. I don't think anybody has studied the sport as much as I have in the last two years. If everybody was doing what I'm doing, they would be having the success I'm having. . . . I think people just go through the motions of working out."

Uncertain how much effort it would take to be successful, Moses tried to take every precaution. There seems to be no training avenue he has not tried, full-bore. Moses said his entire day, every day, is carefully designed to prepare him for the 2000 Olympics.

Parting the Waters

His parents wonder how their son would handle a significant defeat in swimming, should it ever come. To date, he has chased down every goal he has pursued. They, of course, do their best to encourage him. Sissy Moses takes a lucky teddy bear adorned with Moses' old swim trunks to meets. She also waves a distinctive sign: "Part the Water, Moses," it reads.

"Sometimes I wish I could ground him a little," she said. "I see him going in all directions, but he has never told us anything he hasn't accomplished. I remember years ago, when he first started swimming, he would say, 'I'm going to break this record and I'm going to break that record.'

"We used to say, 'What?' Now we just say, 'Okay.' "

COMING UP

FINA Swimming World Cup

When: Nov. 17-18

Where: The University of Maryland Campus Recreation Center Natatorium, College Park.

Significance: First stop on a 12-meet World Cup tour that includes stops in Rio De Janeiro, Hong Kong, Sydney, Berlin and Paris.

Who: Americans Lenny Krayzelburg, Jenny Thompson, Tom Dolan, Dara Torres and Ed Moses, as well as international stars from 38 countries including China's Chen Yan, Britain's James Hickman and Finland's Jani Sievinen.

Tickets: All 800 seats for the 6:30 p.m. finals on both nights are sold out. Tickets ($5 adults, $3 children) still remain for the daily preliminaries at 10:30 a.m. and are available by calling 410-433-8300.