IT was a very hard decision to make – perhaps even a slight gamble – but US-based Australian Olympian 400m runner Steven Solomon’s choice to skip last week’s Australian Athletics Championships on his road towards Commonwealth Games selection, and compete for Duke University at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Indoor Track and Field Championships, has paid off handsomely.
The Sydney native, who is pursuing a masters degree in business management at Duke, smashed a stack of men’s 400m indoor records in the tournament’s heats on the banked 200m track.
His sizzling time of 45.44 seconds broke the Australian record of 45.93 set by Daniel Batman in 2003.
It also broke the all-time Duke University indoor record for that distance, the ACC record and was the fourth-fastest time by any National Collegiate Athletic Association athlete this season.
Duke’s director of track and field, Norm Ogilvie, was so impressed, he described it as “a history-making performance”.
“Steven set the conference record, beating times of some legends, and that takes a lot out of the body.
“We wanted to be careful with him, with the Commonwealth Games coming up [for Solomon], and he was still able to get third place [the next day in the tournament’s final] on 46.16 and claim first team All-ACC honours.”
Solomon said “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look up at the Australian record, just to have a little peek, but I was really quite in shock when I saw [my] time on the board.
“I didn’t know where to look – I was very high with adrenaline.”
Missing the Australian national Championships meant that Solomon could not earn a fifth national title, but he said the decision didn’t come about lightly.
“It was very stressful [but] when I looked at the facts and took my emotion out of the decision, it really was the best move to put me in a good position come the Commonwealth Games, should I make the [Australian] team,” Solomon said.
“At the end of the day, it saved me 50 hours of travel, it saved me from having to take time away from my academic program and it really saved me the risk of having to race straight off the plane.”
Solomon is almost certain to be included in Australia’s athletics team for next month’s Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, and that will be confirmed when the full team is officially announced next week.
Being a part of it would be a dream come true for Solomon, who tore his hamstring severely in the men’s 400m semi-finals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
He still bears the scar from surgery as a reminder of how far he’s come.
“I’m racing with a lot of confidence now … my fitness is there and it was about time to start turning the wheels over a little bit more,” Solomon said.
“I couldn’t be more happy with how I went.”