SPIKES charts the speedy rise of middle distance ace Duane ‘Bang’ Solomon over the last 18 months, and finds out how his coach is pushing his student to break his own US 800m record.
It only took a quarter of a second to transform the career of Duane Solomon.
A solid 1:45 performer for many years, the 6ft 3ins 800m runner appeared destined for a career on the periphery of the world-class bracket.
But everything changed in May last year, at the 2012 US Olympic Trials. Solomon, from Lompoc in California, announced his arrival by producing the quickest race of his life.
He ran 1:44.65, just 0.25 clear of the fourth place finisher Ryan Martin, finishing third to make the US team for the London Games.
“It was like a big burden off my shoulders. It was a major breakthrough,” says Solomon. “I felt like, if I hadn’t made the team that year, then I was going to have to re-evaluate my career … whether I was going to stay in track and field.
“It was a big turning point for me. It built my confidence a lot. I stopped having an attitude where I was running just to make third place.”
Fuelled by a new level of belief, and under the training regime of his coach, US record holder Johnny Gray, Solomon slashed a further second from his personal best to clock 1:43.44 for third at the Monaco Diamond League.
The only athletes competing at London 2012 with faster season’s bests than Solomon were David Rudisha and Nijel Amos.
“After Monaco, I went into the Games the third fastest guy,” he says. “That gave me a confidence boost knowing only two guys were faster than me. I had a greater belief in myself and stopped being timid.”
Solomon lived up to his promise, and starred in the greatest 800m race in history: an Olympic final where David Rudisha smashed the world record and seven of the eight men in the field clocked a PB, with world junior and national records to boot.
Qualifying as the eighth fastest from the semi-finals, Solomon set a stunning personal best of 1:42.82 for fourth, just 0.29 shy of a medal. The time would have been good enough for a gold medal in every previous Olympic 800m final with the exception of Atlanta 1996, and he instantly climbed to No.2 on the US all-time lists, behind only his coach.
Solomon races in THAT 800m London 2012 Olympic final, where Kenya’s David Rudisha smashed the world record.
“It was an honour to be part of that race,” he says. “My coach had predicted I was capable of running 1:42, but up until that point I didn’t think I could go that fast. For me, it was a big surprise. That’s when I decided: you know what, I don’t have a problem competing against these guys.”
The building blocks to Solomon’s success had been formed back in 2010, when he reached out to be coached by Gray, the 1992 Olympic 800m bronze medallist, and they set about transforming the rangy Californian into a world-class performer.
Success didn’t come easy. It rarely does. In 2011, Solomon competed in too many races with little reward. After stepping off the track a disconsolate ninth in 1:49.39 in Birmingham – his last race of the campaign – he decided to adopt a whole new strategy in 2012.
“Johnny told me to take my mind off chasing the money, and he said: ‘the money will come to you after you perform’. I got into a new mindset. That was a positive.”
Gray set about giving confidence and belief to his charge but also a sprinkling of tactical nous. It worked. If 2012 was the breakthrough year, 2013 solidified Solomon’s status as one of the world’s best two-lap runners.
Three times he dipped below 1:44, with a season’s best 1:43.27 to win his maiden US outdoor title in the second-fastest time of his career.
Solomon celebrates winning the 2013 US outdoor 800m title.
He also ran the second-quickest 600m of all time (again behind coach Gray), with 1:13.28 in Canada. This year marked “my most successful season,” says Solomon.
Yet at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, it just didn’t work out. Ranked No.1 in the world going into the event, Solomon was a pre-event favourite. He went out like a rocket in the final but could only finish sixth in 1:44.42, slower than his semi-final victory two days earlier.
“The only disappointing race, where I knew I could have ran better, was at the world championships,” he says. “I just didn’t run the race like I know I could have, and that was down to a mixture of the expectations people had on me and the expectations I had of myself.”
Solomon’s not the kid of man to dwell on it, though. Competing at the world indoors in Sopot in March is a “possibility” – and Duane ‘Bang’ Solomon prefers to focus on the positives – namely a tilt at his coach’s US record time of 1:42.60.
“With no worlds or Olympics in 2014, this is the year Johnny wants me to chase it,” says Solomon, who turns 29 in December.
“He really wants me to break it, because as he coaches me, he says it will feel like he’s broken it again.”