ROME — On the day after his 32nd birthday, Edwin Moses ran his fastest time ever in a major international championship to continue his reign in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles. But while age may not be catching up to him, the competition is.
It took a photo finish to determine Moses was the winner Tuesday at the Olympic Stadium here by two-hundredths of a second over another American, Danny Harris, and West German Harald Schmid.
Coming on the fourth day of track and field's World Championships, Moses gave the United States its first gold medal. Three hours later, the United States had another when Jackie Joyner-Kersee overwhelmed the field in the heptathlon.
Moses, the 1976 and 1984 Olympic gold medalist and the 1983 world champion, was timed in 47.46 seconds, while Harris and Schmid both finished in 47.48. After viewing the electronic photo, officials ruled Harris finished ahead of Schmid by the slimmest of margins.
Veteran track and field observers said it was the closest finish in an international championship since Otis Davis of the United States beat another West German, Carl Kaufmann, in the open 400 meters during the 1960 Summer Olympics in this stadium. Both were hand-timed in 44.9, but an electronic timer gave Davis the victory by .02 seconds.
Adding to the intrigue of Tuesday's finish was that to the naked eye, three athletes appeared to hit the tape at the same instant.
While the scoreboard flashed Moses' name as the winner and he began a labored victory lap, Harris and Schmid insisted they had won. Harris was even more adamant after viewing a television replay. But when officials showed them the official photo, both said they were satisfied with the official order of finish.
For Moses, whose world record is 47.02, it was the 12th fastest time of his career but the fastest he has run in a competition after having to survive two days of qualifying. The first heat here was Sunday, the semifinals Monday.
His previous best was a 47.50 in the finals at the first World Championships four years ago in Helsinki, Finland, a race best remembered because he ran the last 200 meters with one of his shoelaces untied.
That was as much drama as a Moses race ever produced until this year. In June, Harris, the heir apparent at age 21, ran a personal record of 47.56 and ended Moses' 107-race winning streak. The last person who had beaten him was Schmid on Aug. 26, 1977.
In finishing second Tuesday, Harris ran even faster to tie Schmid as the second-fastest performer of all time. Schmid, 29, equaled his European record to finish third. It was the first time three men in the same race have broken 48 seconds. Seven of the eight runners broke 49 seconds, also a first.
"It was the fastest race in the event ever and the toughest race of my career," Moses said. "It gets tougher and tougher to win every year. If I can say so myself, I've created a monster.
"I'm happy to come out the winner, being the old man that I am."
Moses' age was most evident on his victory lap, which took 12 minutes, including the time he needed to go into the crowd, find his mother, Gladys, and wife, Myrella, and give each a kiss. He started the lap trotting and finished in a slow walk.
That was better than some of the competitors in the walk were able to do later in the afternoon, as the heat and humidity continued to stifle the athletes.
In a scene reminiscent of the 1984 Summer Olympics, when Switzerland's Gabriela Andersen-Schiess staggered through the final lap of the women's marathon, three women in the 10-kilometer walk Tuesday had to be carried off the track on stretchers before reaching the finish line. One of the women, Lorraine Jachno of Australia, was taken to a hospital because of heat exhaustion but was released late Tuesday night.
That race also provided one of the most confusing moments of the championships.
Watching the race on the scoreboard as the leaders reached the tunnel to enter the stadium for the final lap, the crowd of about 48,000 was told by the public address announcer that China's Ping Guan was in first place.
But when the walkers emerged from the tunnel, she was not among them. There was no explanation given to the crowd, but officials later said Guan was disqualified outside the stadium when she was given her third red card for running. Irina Strakhova of the Soviet Union won in 44:12.
Joyner-Kersee said the humidity was so thick "you could almost reach out and grab it."
Joyner-Kersee's gold and Jane Frederick's bronze in the heptathlon gave the United States four medals for the day, one more than it won in the first three days combined. The United States now has seven medals, eight fewer than it had after the first four days of the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki.
For the second time ever in a major competition, and the first time since the 1960 Rome Olympics, no U.S. runners qualified for the men's 800-meter final Tuesday.
A Kenyan who trains in Long Beach, Billy Konchellah, won in a personal record of 1:43.06.