The moments following the men’s 800-meter final at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field played out like a Hollywood movie for Duane Solomon Jr.
Overcome with emotion, Solomon (Los Angeles, Calif.) fell to the track and buried his face in his arms. The giant scoreboard overlooking the first turn of Hayward Field told his story – 1:44.65. The third-place time hit the Olympic “A” standard and secured a spot for the veteran of multiple World Indoor and World Outdoor Championship teams on his first Olympic team.
And the surreal script continued to unfold.
In a daze Solomon was helped to his feet by first-place finisher Nick Symmonds and was shortly embraced from behind by coach Johnny Gray. Together, Solomon and Gray punched their ticket to London.
“I crossed the line at the Trials and I couldn’t believe it,” Solomon said. “I had a lot riding on that race. I feel blessed to have this opportunity.”
The opportunity and his incredible journey will continue when Solomon takes part in Friday’s Opening Ceremonies at the London Olympic Games. Being one of the 529 members of the current U.S. Olympic team has been a dream come true for the University of Southern California graduate.
In the weeks following the Olympic Trials Solomon has been forced to make an adjustment. His most impressive accolades are no longer a pair of USA Indoor 800m titles or a 2006 NACAC U23 championship. It’s now being an Olympic Team USA member.
In the midst of the increased attention and the pageantry of the Olympic Games, Solomon has been forced to refocus his attention to winning an Olympic medal.
“There were nights when I couldn’t sleep,” Solomon said of the days immediately following his final at the Olympic Trials. “But it finally sunk in. Being here now and being here with the greatest athletes in the world I know that I belong here.”
And Solomon seems poised for that next step.
Competing in the Samsung Diamond League last Friday in Monaco, Solomon recorded a big personal best by more than a full second in finishing third in a time of 1:43.44. The time is the fastest in the country this year and makes Solomon the fifth fastest American of all time. It also makes him fifth fastest in the world this year.
“I went into the race wanting to run something great,” Solomon said about his performance in Monaco. “No one expected the result. I wanted to be in contention and I knew it was a race to see where I would stack up. I realized these guys weren’t getting away from me and I was still coming home strong and even almost taking the win. It was very surprising to see the time. It did a lot for my confidence.”
He joins Symmonds and Khadevis Robinson on Team USA to form a veteran group of men’s 800m runners. Symmonds has won the past five USA Outdoor titles and Robinson has a combined total of eight USA Indoor and Outdoor championships to his credit. Within the trio is a collective goal to bring home a men’s 800m medal.
“I think our chances are pretty high,” Solomon said of bringing a medal home to the U.S. “I think going through the rounds is our strength. I love running the rounds. Nick is a rounds person and K.D. (Robinson) has been around for a long time. If we can get Americans into the final I think we will find a way to get it done.”
And Solomon has a daily presence reminding him of what it takes to stand on the awards podium in his coach Gray. Gray is the current American record holder and the last American man to win an Olympic 800m medal with his bronze in 1992.
Having an experienced voice is something Solomon hopes will give him an advantage.
“It has been great,” he said about being coached by Gray. “This is my third year working with Johnny. I am learning new things and figuring out new things. He is a great motivator and he found a way to talk to me and get my head in the right place. Johnny has been there and he knows what to do. I want to live in his footsteps.”
Competition for the men’s 800m will get underway in the morning session on August 6 with the semi-final slated for August 7 and the final to be run in the afternoon of August 9.
That is when Solomon will have his next opportunity to continue his journey.