James Sullivan has been chatting to Australian 400m runner Steven Solomon, finalist at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Steven Solomon is an elite athlete from Sydney, Australia, who specialises in the 400m. At the 2012 World Junior Championships he claimed the bronze medal in a personal best time of 45.52 seconds. Just four weeks later he ran a sensational 44.97 in the semi-finals of the London Olympics to reach the final, where he eventually finished in 8th place. He is currently on an athletics scholarship with Stanford University in the USA.
James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. So to begin, how did you first get involved in athletics?
Steven: My path into the sport of track and field began through school sports. I always enjoyed competing at school athletic carnivals and was fortunate enough to represent my “zone” a few times in junior school at the NSW State championships. It was not however until high school that I really began my athletic career. Growing up, I was a keen sportsman and played just about every sport that lent itself the opportunity.
Moving to Cranbrook school (High School) was the first time that I had ever been introduced to a structured athletic program. Although the program only spaned six weeks a year, the program had coaches and routine training times. It was through this program that I met my first coach, James Roff. James coached me and other Cranbrook boys throughout our first couple of years at Cranbrook. I really enjoyed the sport and a big reason for this was James. He was just a great guy and made training very enjoyable.
As I continued to physically mature through high school, I got a lot stronger and was able to run a lot faster. After breaking numerous school and interschool records, I was granted the opportunity to race at the NSW All School Championships in grade 10. After claiming victory in the 400m and 400m hurdles at the event, I continued on to take the Australian All Schools 400m crown a few months later. National champion was an awesome feeling, and shortly after, I was invited by James’s coach, Fira Dvoskina to join her squad. The squad consisted of some of the best all round people I have ever met in my life, and instantly I fell in love with both the squad and the sport.
James: Growing up did you have a particular idol in the sport?
Steven: Because I only really took interest in track and field at a late age, I did not have any real idols in the sport. I am slowly catching up on the history of the sport, and regretting now not knowing of athletes such as Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis growing up. These are two of the greatest athletes that have ever walked the face of the planet, but they did not inspire me growing up simply because I never knew who they were! I never even watched the 400m final in the Beijing Olympics… and four years later, I was in that same race but in London!
Growing up, I played a lot of rugby and soccer. My main idol growing up was Matt Burke. I used to go to the local oval every afternoon for years and kick for goal in hope of one day representing Australia just like he did. As it turns out, I am fortunate enough to don the green and gold, just in a different sport than I imagined ten years ago.
James: What do you believe to be your strongest attribute with regards athletics, and what area do you feel you could improve on the most?
Steven: I think my mental stamina is my strongest attribute. I am a very focused athlete, and am sure of my goals and how to get there. I am lucky to have like-minded people in my life supporting my quest in Track and Field. I think my physical ‘speed’/’power’ are the two areas that I have the most room for improvement. I am hopeful that these areas will improve in the near future, and will help me continue to run faster then I ever have before.
James: Would you describe yourself as a speed based or endurance based 400m runner?
Steven: I come from an aerobic philosophy training background so I would have to lean towards endurance based. Additionally, statistics show that I finish stronger than a lot of my competitors, but run the first part of the race more conservatively than most.
James: At the 2012 World Junior Championships you claimed the 400m bronze medal. Can you describe that experience?
Steven: The 2012 World Juniors in Barcelona was an unbelievable championship. I love competing on junior teams, as they are always a lot of fun and I enjoy meeting new people and hearing of there introduction into the sport. I was really pleased with my performance at these championships, leaving with a new personal best and a bronze medal. I had high expectations for the championships, and although I did not have the ‘perfect’ series of races, the experience certainly will prove invaluable to my career development.
James: At the London Olympic Games you surprised the world by qualifying for the final of the 400m, running sub 45 seconds for the first time in the process. Can you put that experience into words? Did you expect to perform so well?
Steven: I cannot put my London achievements in academically accepted worlds. Its like… nope, I’m sorry. It was such a special intrinsic experience, filled with emotions of joy and proudness.
I knew that I was capable of running fast in London, and to make the final was my goal going into the championships. My coach and I had planned to peak at these championships and I was confident that our plan was running smoothly coming into the Olympic Games. I was very pleased with all three of my runs. To run the three fastest runs of your career to date at the Olympic games is a very satisfying feeling. I was also very happy with my ability to control my emotions and stick to my race plans and have absolute confidence in them. My ability to do this certainly contributed to my success as much as my physical exertions.
James: What other moments from your career to date are you particularly proud of?
Steven: I am proud of every race that I feel helped better me as both a runner and as a person. My introduction to senior track and field came in 2011 at the Melbourne Track Classic, an event that I won at the age of 17 and in a new personal best of 46.12. That was a very exciting race for me, only toped a few months later when I took my first senior National 400m crown in a time of 45.58.
James: You have recently started an athletics scholarship at Stanford University. Can you describe your experience there to date?
Steven: I am having the time of my life here at Stanford University. The university is unbelievable. Every facet is beyond anything that I have ever seen before or even heard of. The campus itself is the second largest in the world, and has everything from golf courses to hospitals to even a shopping mall. The university is situated right in the heart of Silicon Valley, home of many of the worlds most influential technology companies such as Google and Facebook. The aesthetics of the university are breathtaking, and combine both renaissance designs with modern architecture. The teaching faculty are not only world leaders in their field of expertise, but also become your friends. In one week last term, I had the privilege of listening to Mark Zuckerberg, Condoleezza Rice and Melinda Gates lecture. But above the exceptional facilities, eye-capturing environment and influential speakers, my favorite part of Stanford University is the student life. With acceptance rates as low as 5.6%, the quality of people at Stanford is to me what makes it such an incredible institution. The prestige of Stanford attracts not only those with gifted minds and talents, but attracts good human beings. The administration process, although at times painstakingly arduous, is there to bring in the best all rounded applicants. Everybody is sociable. Everybody has a strong work ethic and everybody has a desire to make their time at university a time that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
The party life is lively, and not too dissimilar from what we back home are familiar with through watching films such as American Pie and Animal House. The people are awesome and the weather is gorgeous. It is of little surprise that Stanford Alumni Herbert Hoover deemed the university as “the most beautiful place on earth”.
James: What made you choose going down the NCAA route?
Steven: At the ripe age of 19, I did not feel that I was ready to turn pro. This is more about my maturity as a person, and as an athlete, than it is about my current athletic capabilities. I feel I am still too inexperienced in life to deal with the nomadic travels of a professional track athlete, and all the added unknowns that come with it.
Traveling the world by oneself, negotiating the varying delicacies of each country and dealing with imperfect situation is not easy. I did not feel that I was ready for this challenge yet. The college system breeds these kinds of qualities into its athletes. You travel around America as a team each week. You learn from those above you how best to deal with adverse times and how to make the most of these often imperfect situations – delayed flights, dirty hotel rooms, lost baggage. I have had to deal with all these things before, but with practice I derive confidence. Not that I plan on having my bag sent to another state, or even country other then my destination, having a team behind me provides me with a lot of confidence and will teach me the best ways to deal with halting situations such as these. Also, I am a social person, and still am young enough to cherish the company of friends whilst I compete. I am not ready quite yet to do this on my own. That day will come in time.
James: What would an average week of training be like at this time of the year, specifically in terms of key sessions?
Steven: 3 track sessions, one tempo session, two gym sessions, a pool session, two physiotherapy sessions and a massage.
James: While the 400m is mainly an anaerobic event there are some who look at the event from a more aerobic point of view. What sort of specific aerobic work do you do throughout the year?
Steven: Most of my aerobic work is partaken during the winter or ‘fall’ training. Here, I look to develop a strong aerobic base that I then can convert to speed later in the year. I love the feeling of being “fit” so I put a strong emphasis on aerobic work. Thankfully, both my coaches’ training philosophies incorporate a strong aerobic component.
James: With regards strength work in the gym how much emphasis do you put on this?
Steven: I never lifted a weight in my life before coming to Stanford. For me, I would say that core stability is the most important and most emphasised component of my strength training. Having a strong core keeps me in good positions on and off the track, and helps my running performance as well as injury prevention.
James: What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
Steven: I really enjoy aerobic work. The longer the session, the easier it feels to me. My most difficult sessions are speed work with short recoveries. Those sessions when you are starting reps at heart rates around 185 are very tough for me! Thankfully, I have an awesome training squad to help me get through these important sessions
James: Nutrition obviously plays an important part in the life of an elite athlete. What would be your typical dieting habits in the lead up to a big race?
Steven: I do not have a strict diet per se outside of competition, but I do put a conscious awareness on my diet leading into a competition. I make sure that my carbohydrate intake is high to give my body the fuel it needs to complete training sessions leading into races and of course the races themselves.
James: Many Australian athletes have struggled with the track season in Europe and the major championships being at a different time to the Australian track season and can often peak three or four months too early. Has this been a concern for you in the past, and how did you manage this challenge?
Steven: I am still young so the challenge of ‘double peaking’ is not that foreign to me. I am now in the US system which runs almost parallel with the European season so I will let you know in a few months time whether I perform better only needing to peak once per a season opposed to two.
James: That’s great Steven. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck in 2013 and beyond.
Steven: Thank you. Speak again soon.