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.”
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.”