“It’s been a difficult season for me, riddled with injury, but Doha presents a fantastic opportunity to finish off the season with a really great performance and put me in a good position for Tokyo next year.
“But I firmly believe that a player that makes the team great is better than a great player. Being awarded the men’s team captaincy was a huge honour, and I will definitely be doing all I can to be there for my team-mates, however they need me.”
It is a typically modest comment from the 26-year-old Olympian, whose trajectory from school to the world stage was nothing short of astonishing. After focusing on rugby and then football – he even captained the Australia under-20 team at the 2009 Maccabiah – Solomon switched to athletics at the relatively late age of 16. “I was lucky to have a fantastic high school environment for training, and great coaches. Professional sport is the toughest thing I’ve ever done, and you can only survive if you have the passion for it and people around you to guide your potential. When I look at my team-mates, they were all given the opportunity by someone to develop that passion for their sport, and that’s why they’re willing to work so hard.”
And hard work it is. “400m training is a mix of aerobic and anaerobic drills, but it is the combination of the two in a single workout that distinguishes 400m runners from other sprinters. We go from running 500m at 80 per cent to having a two-minute rest, and then sprinting an all-out 200m. Then we and repeat this over and over again.”
Solomon won his first national 400m title in 2011, in a time that qualified him for the World Championships. It was only because he needed to focus on his final year at school that he was chosen for the 4x400m relay in Daegu and not the individual race too. This is when his sporting hero, future Olympic champion 100m hurdler Sally Pearson, approached him to become his informal mentor, a role that continued up until her retirement earlier this year.
Then came 2012 and a place in the Olympic team. Still only 19, Solomon ran a personal best time of 44.97 to become the first male Australian to reach a 400m Olympic final since 1988.
By now he had a student-athlete scholarship to Stanford to study human biology. He broke college records and competed at the 2013 World Championships, a second Maccabiah (winning a 400m silver), and the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Despite intermittent injury, including hamstring surgery, in 2016 he took his fourth Australian national title, and lined up numerous opportunities to qualify for Rio. He missed the Olympics cut-off mark by four hundredths of a second.
But with a maturity beyond his years, Solomon took it as a life lesson. “Nothing is guaranteed in sport. Everything you’re working towards can be taken away in an instant. The margins for error are so small that to be exceptional you have to do what others are not willing or not able to do, and that includes dealing with the highs and the lows.”
He realised that to train for the Tokyo Olympics, he needed to be back in Sydney, his home town. “I asked myself, ‘Where do I feel at my best?’, which is a different question from ‘Where do I run best?’ For Rio, I had come back from the States to train at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. I wasn’t close to family or to where I get my coffee from. It’s all about the right mental state.”
Solomon spent a further year in America, taking a Masters degree in management at Duke University before returning to Sydney and his regular Friday night dinners at home with his “close and loving” family, as well as reconnecting with the coach who led him to London 2012 (the late Fira Dvoskina). He also began a daily regime of 5.45am starts to allow time for his job in partnership management for Uber Eats, liaising with the national headquarters of major franchise brands.
Solomon acknowledges that his management expertise crosses over into his life as an elite sportsman. “There’s no magic bullet to what I do, but one thing that gives me a competitive advantage is aligning the targets of everyone in my support team. I don’t want the strength coach to think he has done his job because Steve is stronger. I only want them to measure themselves by how fast I run 400m. I control how often we talk face-to-face, and when we have a whole-team meeting. It’s all the small things.”
Injuries aside, the build-up to Doha has gone well, including winning a sixth national title. “Here in Italy at our two-week base I’m doing everything I do at home — running, swimming, recovery, cold and hot tubs, physio, gym and Pilates — but with the team all together, and with everything on hand, I can take it to one to two degrees better to really get into the best shape possible. And as team captain, I intend to lead from the front in everything I do.”
* The men’s 400m heats are scheduled to take place on Tuesday, semi-finals on Wednesday and the final next Friday. The 4x400m relay heats are on October 5 with the final the following day.