The 400-meter-hurdles final had been run and the top three finishers were gathering in the large interview area beneath the southwest corner of Olympic Stadium. Edwin Moses, the 33-year-old wunder-elder who had chased his third gold medal in this event, came into the area first, a bouquet of long-stemmed pink roses in his right hand, a slight smile playing briefly on his face. From habit established over 12 years, Moses settled into the center seat, the one reserved for the winner. His eyes betraying a confusion of happiness and disbelief, Amadou Dia Ba of Senegal came in next, and as the silver medalist he placed himself on the chair to Moses's right. Dia Ba sneaked a peek at Moses, a sphinx staring straight ahead.
The last man to arrive was Andre Phillips, the gold medalist. Coming up behind Moses, Phillips hesitated, and then he reached down and gently patted his teammate's left shoulder. "I'm sorry," said a Korean official, pointing to Moses, "but you're sitting in his seat. You'll have to move."
Phillips was horrified. "Oh, my goodness," he thought. "They're telling him to move now? Does that man know who he's talking to? This is Edwin Moses. I mean, I can sit right here, no problem." Wordlessly, Moses shifted one seat to the left. The face of the bronze medalist remained blank.
"It was a strange moment," Phillips would tell his fiancèe, Jen Gea Bell. "I mean, a chair is a chair. I was just going to come in and plop down. And this guy tells Edwin to move. I don't know how he felt. I didn't ask him. It's not something you ask about: How did you feel when you had to move over?"
October 2, 1988
Numb and angry, would have been the answer, for on a sunny but blustery Sunday, 6,500 miles and 14 time zones from Montreal, where he had won his first Olympic gold medal a dozen years ago, Moses finally ran up against a hurdle he couldn't get over. A third gold medal was a barrier too high.
"I've lost before and I've come back," said Moses, who has been defeated only four times since Montreal. The middle and ring fingers of his right hand were wrapped with white tape; he had a ligament strain from shaking too many hands. "The other guys just ran their best races, and I didn't. I know it was the Olympic Games, but for me it was just a normal business day. For them, it was the chance of a lifetime."
Moses's normal business day started briskly. Running in the third lane, he got off well. But Phillips started even better, if blindly. He had drawn Lane 6, which meant that for the first 300 meters of the staggered-start race he wouldn't know the position of the five men—the top guns—running to the inside of him. Phillips's plan was to go out fast for the first three hurdles—"to really take it out"—and then back off slightly through the middle portion of the race. He expected Moses to mount his characteristic charge after the seventh hurdle. "Then we'll hook up and go for it from that point," Phillips said before the race.
As he cleared the seventh hurdle, Phillips was clearly ahead, but he was pursued closely by Moses, who had begun his surge as predicted, and by Dia Ba and Kevin Young, the third U.S. entry. Phillips started looking for Moses. "Where's Edwin? Where's Edwin?" he kept asking himself. But Moses's surge was short-lived.
When Dia Ba saw Moses coming back to him, he found a gear he didn't know he possessed. He began to close on Phillips. "Coming off the 10th hurdle, I got a little lazy," said Phillips. "I thought. O.K., I got it. Then I heard Dia Ba coming up. That was a surprise."
As the 30-year-old Dia Ba powered past Moses in the last 40 yards, Phillips reacted with a return to full gear and leaned in at the wire to win in 47.19, breaking Moses's Olympic record of 47.64, set in Montreal. Dia Ba finished an eyelash back in 47.23, with Moses third in 47.56. Ironically, Moses ran faster for the bronze than he had for either of his gold medals.
"A big part of my motivation was my 15-month-old son, Andre Jr.," said Phillips. "I was thinking, He'll grow up knowing his daddy ran track, and his daddy was good—but, 'Daddy, did you ever win a medal, or even go to the Games?' After the trials this time I knew I could tell him, 'Hey, I went to the Olympics.' Now I can tell him, 'Hey, your daddy won a gold medal.' "
"If I had run as well as I know I can run, I would have been under 47 seconds today," said Moses. His wife, Myrella, smiled at that. "Edwin," she said, thinking of the 1992 Games in Barcelona, "does that mean we should take Spanish 101, or what?"
Moses shrugged. "I'm going to run the rest of this year, and then I'm going to run next year," he said. "After that, I'll play it year by year."
"He loves it," said Myrella. "It's the challenge. He loves it when people say he can't do something. I have a feeling that we haven't yet seen the best of Edwin Moses."