It’s all change for running man Solomon

Steve Solomon, 2012 400m finalist at just 19, had it all mapped out in the build up to Tokyo. “My qualification for these Olympics started last May. Every competition I did was to set me up for 2020,” said Solomon, Australia’s team captain at last summer’s World Championships.


“I was really looking forward to a successful year. The season’s best I got in my last competition in February, 45.37 seconds (down from 45.54 in 2019 and seeking 44.90 to qualify), showed what a good place I was in; I was really strong and in great shape.”

Then, a few short weeks later, on the day both Australia and the UK went into lockdown, those plans were turned upside down, when the IOC postponed the Games. It hit hard. “Even though it was kind of a relief when the announcement came, at first I found myself stressed in a way I hadn’t been for years,” said Solomon.

“Getting into the Olympics is a challenge anyway and the months going into the Games are so intense, not just for the athletes but for their families. Everything is amplified. We’d been due to hold our national trials the week before and were expecting some selections soon after.”

There was more to waiting another year than the simple passage of time and a later qualification deadline. “It may not sound that disruptive, but for athletes it’s quite a significant push for us to change to 2021. Our health, form and performance now is no guarantee of what it’ll be next year. For a lot of athletes it means a new approach to the Games.”

Solomon’s disappointment also reflects his personal sacrifices over the past two years. “I’d made some huge decisions to help me to reach Tokyo this year, not next, in terms of relationships, where I train and where I work. I also had plans for after the Games and that’s all in the air now.”

He said: “I feel deflated, too. Even though the Games are still going to take place, it almost feels as though they’ve been taken away entirely, because the Olympics won’t be exactly the same as they were going to be in 2020.”

Nevertheless, Solomon is satisfied with how the decision-making was handled. “It was better for us that the Games were going ahead right until the moment they were postponed, because what we do is too hard for uncertainty,” he explained. “People see us as machines, but we’re human.

If the IOC had wavered, athletes would have started making poor training choices. Also, Tokyo made the announcement two months earlier than they’d originally said and we appreciated that. Otherwise it would have been very difficult for us, especially as people are on different lockdown measures in different parts of the world.” Another issue would have been managing anti-doping testing, due to the current restrictions on entering people’s homes.

Solomon also believes it is fortunate, given the circumstances, that the host city is Tokyo. “Had it been Rio, I think they would have struggled both financially and organisationally to keep everything ready for another year, so the Games would probably have been cancelled altogether.”

Focused though he is on his own Olympics preparations, one of the first things Solomon did following the announcement was to message each of his fellow athletes to offer support. ”Everyone is still processing the news,” he said. “The real time to talk is early next year when the stress and anxiety will ramp up again, but I wanted them to know that I understood how they were feeling.”

Like most of Australia’s athletes in lockdown, Solomon is adjusting to a new routine. “Typically I’d go into unstructured training at the end of the international season, to give the body a rest, but with no official season this year, I need to start preparing for 2021 straight away,” he said.

“So I’m taking that break now and I’ll have an extended season from later this month right through to next summer.” Current at-home training involves two short sessions daily with a combination of swimming, exercise bike and rowing machine, supplemented by “fun” core circuits via Zoom with work colleagues at Uber Eats, where Solomon is a partnership manager.

When not training, Solomon finds he is working harder than ever, despite freeing up time by not having to make the usual two-hour round trip to the west Sydney track where his coach, former Olympic 100m hurdler Penny Gillies, is based. “I find it hard to stop working, because I’m at home and it’s around me the whole time,” he said. “I’m consumed by work. I haven’t got round to thinking about how I’ll go back to training normally within the constraints of lockdown.”

When he does, he is determined to put everything in place to give himself the best possible chance of a place in the Olympic squad. “I’ll continue to prepare at all times with the information I have,” he said.

“The Tokyo 2020 CEO has now said that even the 2021 dates can’t be guaranteed while the virus is still spreading. I understand it is a complicated situation to predict but I trust that those tasked with making any revision of the decision are fully aware of the gravity and the responsibility they carry.”

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