Hurdler and a racing fan

Hurdler and a racing fan

Interview: Olympic legend Edwin Moses on how his passion for Formula One has grown over the years

Hurdler and a racing fan

The American athlete Edwin Moses, 59, won gold medals in the 400-metre hurdles at the 1976 and 1984 Olympics. He beat his own 1977 world record in Milan in 1980, but missed the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which were boycotted by the United States.

From 1977 to 1987, Moses won 122 consecutive races and set the world record in his event four times. He has also been an innovative reformer in Olympic eligibility and drug testing. In 2000, he was elected the first chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy, an international service organisation designed to promote and increase participation in sports at every level and to promote the use of sports as a tool for social change.

Born in Dayton, Ohio, Moses graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta with a degree in physics and industrial engineering, and he completed another degree, in business administration, many years later. After college, he worked as an engineer at General Dynamics in the cruise missile programme before taking a leave of absence to devote himself to sports full time.

Moses has been a lifelong fan of Formula One. Since 2000, the Mercedes car company has been a sponsor of Laureus, giving Moses a door to the Formula One paddock. As part of an occasional series of interviews with famous and unusual fans of Formula One, Moses spoke with the New York Times.

How did you become a Formula One fan?

The first race I went to was the first Hungarian Grand Prix, in 1986. I was running, and we had a meet in Budapest that same weekend. When I was running, I was right in the middle of it — from 1976, '77, '78 all the way through '88, when I retired.

And then when I became the chairman of Laureus and their connections, when there was David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher and all that, I started going to races with the team. So I have been a fan going back 25, 30 years.

I stayed at the hotel with the team, got up with the team, went to the track, I was in the pits, had to sign disclosures and all of that, because I was looking at what the engineers were looking at because I understood it. I had the simulator and all that stuff at home, and I know about the changing tracks and setups and all that other kind of stuff. I’m a serious fan going back to the '70s.

Hurdling is a pure Olympic sport of the body. What appeals to you about the mechanical aspect of auto racing?

I’m an engineer. I studied physics and engineering. In fact, in 1978 I started working as an aerospace engineer with General Dynamics. I used to test cruise missiles, space systems, I worked on the first generation of cruise missile. So in 2000 when I went to a race at Spa, and was behind the scenes, I was looking at the exact types of plugs, and connectors, black boxes, computer systems, that I used to work with on the cruise missile. That first generation. Being someone who wanted to be an electrical engineer, and studied the circuits and all that stuff, I was a pure physics student, I studied dynamics, aerodynamics, electronics.

You could have been an engineer in Formula One!

Oh yes, I would have been in that first generation to do bio-mechanics and computers. When I first started running there were no computers. There was no such thing as a laptop. The desktops were the big clunky TV screens and the big old boxes. That would have been my bailiwick: engineering, electrical engineering and bio-mechanics, aerodynamics.

When you are not attending, do you watch Formula One races on television?

I watch every one that I can, wherever I am. I watch them in many languages other than English. I get up and watch them live. I am up at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning when I’m in the States. I have friends that I call because they are up watching, in the East and West coast, and every weekend we are on the phone to each other.

Do you think of Formula One drivers as athletes?

Yes, they have to be now. I think 14 or 15 years ago the guys were really just getting into the physical workout aspect of it, getting personal trainers and whatnot. In 2000-2001, I know that Michael Schumacher did it, I know that David Coulthard did it, Mika Hakkinen did it, but it wasn’t widespread.

Now they all have physical trainers, they have guys that help them deal with jet lag, for example, the weight issues, the physical stresses of being subjected to those type of Gs, dehydration.

It’s necessary. You could be out there and have a bad two or three seconds where the G-forces force the blood out of your brain, not see, not hit the brakes, and kill yourself. It’s critical.

It’s amazing that it took so long for it to happen. But the same thing is happening in lots of other sports. When I was running, no one was doing the kind of stretching that I was doing. No one was using ice baths.

They thought that I was insane to sit in an ice bath for 20 minutes. Now, in baseball, football, basketball, every sport, it’s common. When I was doing it back in the '70s and '80s it wasn’t common. And Sports Illustrated would talk about it and they would think I was crazy. Other athletes whom I would mention it to in terms of recovery, they said, “Ah you must be crazy, I would never sit in water.”

You were known for your technique of 13 steps between hurdles. Was it something you devised through study?

It had more to do with just my natural running stride, that I had long legs, disproportionately long legs for my height. And had the power to be able to sustain that kind of stride.

It worked like a secret technological weapon, though, right?

Yes, everybody else basically had manual transmission. I had automatic transmission. I didn’t have to shift gears, where they did. And they had to think about when to shift; and after they shifted, how much gas they were going to give or not have available. I didn’t have to worry about that.

What about the future of F1? Bright?

I think the future is going to be the handover of the technology to the automobile industry to build lighter cars, more fuel-efficient cars, that can do more things, be electronically controlled. They already have a car where they had a driver in the seat but they programmed it to travel from point A to point B in Germany automatically on its own. They are doing it. So all that’s possible. And look at the braking system that every car has now, anti-skid braking. In fact it’s hard to find a car without it. Even low-end cars have it. Almost everyone’s got GPS. The suspension control is in most cars. Everybody’s got electronic windows, air-conditioning, AM-FM radios, which when we grew up was a luxury. Even an FM radio. I remember when they first started in cars: that big AM dial, the column shifting and all that. Now it’s automatic gearshift. It’s amazing — phones in cars, TV screens.

You’re totally a tech guy!

A little slow on the computer thing. They get out in front of me because there’s so much. All I want to do is talk on my phone, send text messages. I don’t do Facebook, Twitter, I don’t do any of the social media. I want to communicate. I can do Skype and FaceTime. That’s as far as I go. I like to talk to people on the phone. I don’t like to do critical stuff by text message. I need to have a conversation. You have to talk to people.

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