Thursday, August 2, 2012

Born-Again: Duane Solomon by Jon Gugala

Duane Soloman gives the glory after making the
2012 United States Olympic Team at 800 meters
(photo: TrackAndFieldPhoto)
As we dawn on the Athletics portion of the 2012 Olympic Games, a new star has emerged in American Middle Distance running; Duane Solomon. Luckily, my friend Jon Gugala was able to catch up with him after his huge run in Monaco. Check out his story below and follow him @JonGugala

Duane Solomon was cute story at the Trials. But after Monaco he’s grown some teeth.

by Jon Gugala

Death by car in France can come at you from any direction. It doesn’t matter that there’s a little green man illuminated, beckoning you across the intersection, or that it’s a one-way street; as soon as you put one foot into the road, the other one had better be following it—and soon—because the squeal of tires is quick from the side you least expect. The French drive like assholes.

After spending an entire month traveling through the country for track meets, I found myself thinking about this, and what a friend said in January as she was training for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. She said that the scary thing about an Olympic year is that it doesn’t matter about who’s been hanging around the previous three; athletes crawl out of the woodwork to contend for an Olympic spot, and you never know where they’re going to come from.

So was the case with Duane Solomon.

Solomon, of Los Angeles, Calif., was one of the Cinderella stories from the trials. Holding on for third in the Men’s 800-meters, he simultaneously broke the Olympic “A” standard of 1 minutes, 45.60 seconds (which he did not have) and PR’ed by almost a second. He would collapse on the rain-soaked track in tears, then embraced by his coach and American record-holder Johnny Gray. It was touching as hell.

Solomon and Coach Johnny Gray embrace at the trials
(photo: TrackAndFieldPhoto)
But just like all third-place Cinderella stories, you don’t expect much when it comes to the deep end of the pool, aka Olympic rounds, which start on August 6th. Solomon, just like the feel-good stories that came before him, would play his part by quietly bowing out in heats, and on his mantelpiece forever would be the time he was an Olympian.

Well, not so fast.

Because Solomon went to Europe. Solomon got into a Diamond League race. And then Solomon ran fast as hell.

Solomon didn’t just run fast in Monaco; he ran faster than any American in the last 15 years. He ran faster than every current American competitor, including five-time U.S. champ Nick Symmonds. With Solomon’s 1:43.44—almost two seconds faster than his PR set in 2010—he is now the fifth-fastest American ever at the distance. And that changes everything.

“I was talking to my coach the other day [and] we said the same thing,” Solomon says. “We didn’t expect that time, and we didn’t expect it to be now. We were going to be happy with a 1:44-anything. For me to go out there and perform like that, in that type of condition, I think it’s a good sign of what we can do in the Games.”

It was a race that shouldn’t have happened, he says: he’d just got to Europe, and both he and Gray estimated that the jet lag wouldn’t be conducive to a fast time. Monaco was just a rust-buster first race after the trials. But, he says, the feeling between his last race and Monaco was completely different.

“At the trials I was pretty tense because I knew it was all or nothing in that race,” Solomon says. “This race I went in with really no type of pressure. So I went in very relaxed and just basically stayed on the big dogs, on their shoulders, to test myself, [to] see what I could do.

“It’s kind of weird to say that, but running that time felt a lot easier than when I ran a 1:44.”

Solomon knows no one really expected it; he didn’t even expect it of himself. And now that it’s happened, he knows there will be those who consider it a fluke, a random pop off, never to be repeated. They’re the same people that won’t expect him to make it out of rounds, and “definitely not a medal contender,” he says. But that’s not what he and his coach think, and not what they thought even before it happened.

Solomon has won back-to-back
USATF Indoor 800 meter titles
(photo: TrackAndFieldPhoto)
“We always thought that we were going to have a chance to make the final, even when I ran my last race in Oregon,” he says. “But for me to do what I did now, and the time that I hit, and just how I looked in the race—how I felt in the race—I feel like that’s a big tell of what I can be."

“After running Monaco I think it solidifies that I’m legit and I can contend for a medal. I can get to the final and make something happen.”

What does this mean for the U.S.’s medal chances in the 800 meters? Solomon now has the fifth-fastest time in the world, and while Symmonds has been the medal favorite for so long, Solomon isn’t the heart-warming story any more—he’s just too fast. Solomon is the supplanter, and he could be the contender.

For Solomon, however, the best part is that there’s still no pressure. “It will be the same thing [as Monaco],” he says. “I don’t have to be a hero; I can just hang in there in the front”—just as before—“and then use my strength and my speed."

“Everyone has up and down years, and I definitely had my times, but just to break that barrier was awesome,” he says. “I’m a lot more motivated. I’m disciplined. I’m a changed runner.”

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  1. Duane Solomon is from Lompoc California. Graduated from Cabrillo High School of Lompoc in 2003. Don't understand why writers always give props to bigger cities and overlook the athletes true home town.

    1. When Gugala references LA, he is referring to where Solomon is "currently" from as a competitor in the Olympics. This is common practice. No disrespect intended for Lompoc, CA!

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