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91-Year-Old Olympic Gold Medalist Charles H. Moore Jr. Is Running His Final Lap With Purpose

By Karen Rosen | Sept. 15, 2020, 4:24 p.m. (ET)

Left: Charles H. Moore Jr. after winning gold in the men's 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Games Helsinki 1952. Right: Charles H. Moore Jr. stands on the podium at the Olympic Games Helsinki 1952.

 

A little rain couldn’t sidetrack Charles H. Moore Jr.

“It was wet - not too bad - soggy to a degree,” Moore recalled of the rainy day he won the gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Games Helsinki 1952. He defeated his Soviet rival by half a second and tied his own Olympic record from the quarterfinals – also run in the rain. And this was still the cinder track era.

As the Pennsylvania native took his lap of honor, “There were chants of ‘Charlie Moore! Charlie Moore!’” he said. “It was a thrill to do that.”

While rain couldn’t slow him down or dampen his spirits, 68 years later a diagnosis of inoperable pancreatic cancer has only strengthened Moore’s resolve to make the most of his remaining time.

The 91-year-old recently helped bring fiber optic broadband to his rural Pennsylvania community, which desperately needed it, and has also advocated for more emergency medical responders.

“I had been a man of purpose,” said Moore, who enjoyed successful careers in business, philanthropy, U.S. Olympic volunteer leadership and as athletic director of his alma mater, Cornell. “I still have my purpose, a focus on both family and humanitarianism. I am busy and really very happy with my life and I’m prepared to deal with what comes next.

“I’ve had such a full, impactful life that I have no regrets.”

OK, he does have one regret. In Helsinki, Moore was a surprise pick for the American 4x400-meter relay team. It was so unexpected that his family had already gone home.

In an edge-of-your-seat Olympic final, Team USA lost to Jamaica by a scant tenth of a second. Both teams smashed the world record by 4 seconds. Moore, running the third leg, had a 10-yard lead when he got the baton and posted the fastest time of his life, an impressive 46.3 seconds. But Herb McKenley ran one of the greatest legs in history, clocking 44.6, to pass Moore just before the final handoff.

George Rhoden, the 400-meter gold medalist from Jamaica, then outkicked the great Mal Whitfield, the 800-meter champion from the U.S.

“I, of course, lost the race,” Moore said. “I felt absolutely devastated. Even to this day I don’t feel any better.”

Well, he said, upon further reflection, “I probably have gotten over it.”

Life-changing Diagnosis
Until Moore was told he had cancer in February, he was planning to take his entire family, including his wife Judith, nine children, 16 grandchildren and spouses to Paris for the 2024 Olympic Games. Moore had just concluded a scouting trip to France and Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, had even vowed to help him arrange tickets.

“This was going to be so great,” Moore said. “I was having dinner at the New York Athletic Club where Thomas Bach had gotten wind of this, and he said, ‘I want you to be my personal guest.’ I said, ‘No, you don’t understand. I’m bringing 32 people.’"

“Obviously, I’m not going to make that. It would have been fun.”

Moore died on October 8, 2020.

Moore began attending the Olympic Games as a spectator in 1968 in Mexico City, then went to Munich, Montreal, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and London, accompanied by various family members. He also went to Winter Games in Lillehammer and Salt Lake City.

Instead of going to Rio four years ago, Moore hosted his “Mountain Challenge” at home in Laporte, Pennsylvania (population about 300), with family members competing in games he devised such as kayak races and soccer shootarounds.

“He’s a competitive guy, if you can’t tell,” said granddaughter Olivia Nicoletti. “We all had matching T-shirts and ate Brazilian food. We were supposed to do the same thing this summer for Tokyo until the postponement.”

Moore wanted to attend the 2024 Games because his father, Charles Hewes Moore Sr., known as “Crip,” went to Paris as an alternate on that U.S. team in the 110-meter hurdles.

“He was the favorite to make the team and hit the last two hurdles and ended up fifth,” Moore said.

His son would eventually be the one to compete in the Olympics, with his father as his main coach.

“I was his surrogate,” Moore said. “My father was the one whose idea it was I should make the Olympic team. He was my best friend, also my mentor and also the guy who pushed the hell out of me. I loved it. He’d say, ‘Charlie I want you do to this,’ and I would say, ‘Yes, sir.’”

However, Moore had never run track until his father dropped him off at his own alma mater, Mercersburg Academy.

They went straight to the track coach and his father said, “Here, do something with this kid.”

The track coach replied, “You were a hurdler. Let’s see if he can do that.”

I’ve had such a full, impactful life that I have no regrets.

Charles H. Moore Jr.

A Perfect Combination
Moore wound up specializing as an intermediate hurdler instead of a high hurdler.  “I was just a little scrawny kid,” he said. “I was a pretty good quarter miler and a pretty good hurdler, not excellent in either one, so this was the perfect combination.”

Moore donated both of his Olympic medals to Mercersburg, where they are on display. “I couldn’t figure out how you divide two medals among nine children,” he said. “Mercersburg gave me my start and they’ll be there for everybody to see, including my children.”

In his fifth year as an engineering student at Cornell, Moore set the American record for the 400-meter hurdles of 50.7, just 0.1 off the world record, in qualifying for Team USA for the 1952 Olympics.

While Moore says his times “pale with respect to the present” (Kevin Young’s 28-year-old world record is 46.78 seconds), he pioneered taking 13 steps between hurdles, which is the norm today.

“I was 6 feet tall, cut high, and felt I was chopping between hurdles at 15 steps,” Moore said. “I would do that for seven or eight hurdles, then cut back to 15. Why’d I do that? You’re getting tired and you might hit a hurdle. I was always so far ahead, I was much more interested in winning than I was in getting a better time.”

In Helsinki, Moore’s primary rival would turn out to be another undefeated athlete, Yuri Lituyev of the Soviet Union, which returned to Olympic competition for the first time since 1912.

Moore said the Soviet Union and the other countries behind the Iron Curtain insisted on having a separate Olympic Village, which he believed “totally defeated the idea of the Olympics.”

One day the Soviets showed up at the training camp in the village where Team USA was headquartered to see the “crazy” American who took 13 steps between hurdles. And they brought a broom.

“They stepped on my cinder track to sweep the track clean so they could count the steps themselves,” Moore said.

In the Olympic final, all six competitors were even for about the first half of the race until Moore pulled ahead and won with a time of 50.8 seconds. Lituyev was second in 51.3, followed by John Macfarlane Holland of New Zealand (52.2) and Anatoly Yulin of the Soviet Union (52.8).

“Obviously, I was relieved,” Moore said. “I was pleased. I was still very winded when the New Zealander who finished third put his arm around me and said, “I split those bloody blokes! His marching orders were to do well against the Russians and in this case he did.”

And Moore did even better, with his father, mother and sister in the stands. “He was more excited than I was,” Moore said of his father.

Lifelong Friendships
Lord Burghley of Great Britain, the president of the international track and field federation who had raced against Crip Moore, presented his son with his gold medal.

Moore had his own British connections. On his way to dinner one night, Moore joined some athletes he had met during quadrennial meets between Cornell, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge. “We heard a deep voice and a very tall man said, “I say, may I sup with you boys? It was Prince Philip.”

One of the 1952 British Olympic runners who became Moore’s good friend was Roger Bannister, who would go on to break the 4-minute barrier in the mile.

After the Olympics, Moore went on a barnstorming tour of Europe. A few weeks later in London, he broke the world record in the 440-yard hurdles.

“I said that was enough,” said Moore, who was the runner-up for the Sullivan Award presented to the nation’s top amateur athlete. “I arrived back in New York with 17 cents in my pocket, ready to go to work.”

Moore went into the family steel forging business, but “about three months later, in the fall, my body was just itching to go work out,” he said. “I was in perfect shape, of course.”

Moore thought he might compete that indoor season, but on the drive home one day he realized, “Charlie, what can you do that you haven’t already done?  I’d run all the championships and won them all. You can do one thing - which is lose. Why do you want to spend a whole indoor season depriving your family and your work? So I took my shoes and threw them away.”

But he continued to promote the ideals of Olympism and friendship.

“One year I was at the Penn Relays and I see this man coming towards me,” Moore said. “It was Yuri Lituyev. That was so much of a thrill. I don’t speak a world of Russian and he didn’t speak a word of English, but it was a beautiful experience.”

On a trip to New Zealand, Moore and his wife visited Holland at his house, and then years later they went to see McKenley in Jamaica.

“The point I want to make is these experiences last a long, long time,” said Moore, who was named one of “100 Golden Olympians” in 1996 and inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1999.

Olympic Committees and Assignments
He joined the board of the U.S. Olympic Committee, now the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, as a public sector director and was chair of the audit committee from 1992-2000.

Moore said George Steinbrenner, the New York Yankees owner who was a USOC vice president, invited him to join.

“George used to say that he ran against me,” Moore said, “but that’s not true. He claimed he ran against me in a 120 yard shuttle hurdle race and ‘I just saw the back of your (head).’”

As if he didn’t have enough on his plate, he also took on the job of athletic director at Cornell at age 65 with the understanding that he would stay for five years.

“It was the best job I ever had,” said Moore, who got the program moving back in the right direction and started the 400 Club for athletes with a 4.0 grade point average.

He then accepted the role as chair of the USOC Bid Evaluation Task Force, which visited eight cities across the country and eventually chose New York to compete for the 2012 Olympics.

“I loved doing it and I had a great team,” Moore said.

He was the point person meeting with governors and mayors and his “ambassadorial” demeanor was just the right fit, said task force member Greg Harney.

“Charlie had a lot going on with his life, but he always amazed me with his ability to focus on details,” said Harney, then a USOC managing director and now president of Global Sports Partners. “He was a very pleasant guy to deal with and he knew what he wanted and how he wanted to get there.”

While Harney said Moore was a good taskmasker, “The thing I remember most about Charlie was when we came to the meal, no more work. It was time to socialize. One of the things I learned from Charlie was to enjoy your dinner.”

Herman Frazier, who won a gold medal on the 4 x 400 relay in Montreal and served with Moore at the USOC, said “he was always pleasant, always prepared and is a very sharp, smart man.”

“Charlie is a true Olympian,” Frazier added. “There’s a lot of us who wear the Olympic brand on our shoulders all the time and Charlie is certainly in that category.”

Life After Sport
Although Moore is not a member of the USOPC Hall of Fame, he was instrumental in urging leadership to resume inductions after they were on hiatus for several years.

Moore studied the members of the Hall of Fame for a project revolving around what he calls “life after sport.”

“I’m very concerned for all the athletes who stand on the gold medal platform and then say, ‘Oh my God, what do I now?” he said.

Moore held discussions with the USOPC, colleges and sociologists, but stepped back when he was told the project would cost $1 million.

“It’s a thing that I‘m not going to get done, but I care a lot about it,” he said. “It takes some unique skills to be Olympic champion, such as determination, so why not use those skills in transitioning to other things? I’m hoping somebody will pick it up and run with it.”

Moore also has been passionate about corporate philanthropy, serving his longest tenure in any job as executive director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy from 1999 to 2013. The organization was founded by John C. Whitehead, Paul Newman and Peter L. Malkin and Moore boasts that its members contribute $20 billion a year investing in their communities.

Nicoletti said her grandfather has the ability to make everyone he comes in contact with feel important. “When you walk in a room,” she said, “he makes you feel like you are the only person there.”

Moore has written two books: “Running on Purpose - Winning Olympic Gold, Advancing Corporate Leadership and Creating Sustainable Value,” and “One Hurdle At A Time – An Olympian’s Guide to Clearing Life’s Hurdles.”

The latter book, he said, is “a fun book aimed at high schoolers or younger and takes the 10 hurdles and tells you life lessons. It outsold my first book by a wide margin. Adults like it as much as kids.”

Now Moore knows he has cleared his last hurdle, but still has ground to cover before the finish line.

He declined cancer treatment and is receiving hospice care at home.

“Actually, I’m feeling quite well,” Moore said.

He said he is not in any pain, but gets a little out of breath as he walks up the stairs.

But he’s still just as strong as he has always been in his convictions. “I’m a highly principled person,” Moore said. “I’ve clearly had grit all my life, resilience and determination. I’ve tried to face my life with a level of humility and compassion.”

And, of course, purpose.

“You’ve got to have a purpose in life and that can change over time,” Moore said. “You have to understand with clarity what that purpose is, whether it’s achieving an Olympic medal or a running time, or a business measurement or a humanitarian measurement. You’ve got to set a goal and fulfill it.”