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It is no exaggeration to say that the men’s 400m at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal saw the birth of a legend, as Ed Moses announced his arrival on the international stage in devastating fashion.
Not yet 21, the American not only won the men’s 400m gold medal but also smashed John Akii-Bua’s world record in a victory that marked the start of a period of crushing domination of his event.
Moses’ parents were academics and he himself majored in physics at Morehouse College in Atlanta. With no training facilities available, he used public parks to practice and applied the precision and detail of his academic subject to the track.
Crucially, he developed his trademark pattern of 13 strides between each hurdle, combining power, grace and rhythm in a way that no 400m runner had done before.
Moses had only run a handful of full competitive races before the cream of the country’s talent convened for the US Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon in the early summer of 1976.
He set a new national record of 48.30 seconds to book his place in the team for Montreal.
He arrived at the city’s Olympic Stadium without great expectations but proceeded to run the only sub 50-second heat and then bettered his own US record by a hundredth of a second as he cruised to victory in his semi-final.
With West Germany’s Harald Schmid disqualified in the semis, Moses’ biggest danger came from fellow Americans Mike Shine and Quentin Wheeler.
The African boycott of the Games had deprived spectators of a classic face-off with Uganda’s Akii-Bua, but the American team in itself was ferociously competitive.
Moses was by now the favourite as he lined up in lane four, and he went on to pulverise the field. He was among the quickest out of the blocks and then ground down the opposition on the back straight.
As he entered the final bend and then the home straight he was 10 yards clear and he crossed the line in a new world record time of 47.63 seconds with Shine grabbing second and the Soviet Union’s Yevgeny Gavrilenko clinching bronze.
After a defeat to Schmid the following August, Moses then embarked on a 122 race unbeaten streak stretching almost ten years.