THE result of the men’s 4x400m relay at the annual Queensland Track Classic does not usually capture too much interest south of the Tweed River, but last Saturday’s race in Brisbane was different – the stakes had suddenly become much higher.
With a final deadline imminently approaching for international teams to meet a qualifying time of 3 minutes 5 seconds for the 2019 World Relay Championships that begin in Japan on May 12, the Australian team needed to produce something special.
Its leader, 26-year-old Steven Solomon, had missed all previous domestic athletics meets this season due to a frustrating foot injury, which hampered his otherwise happy homecoming to Sydney last November following a six-year stint in America.
To top it off, the race in Brisbane would be the 2012 Olympic Games and 2018 Commonwealth Games men’s 400m finalist’s only chance to test his body in race conditions prior to the 2019 National Championships, which begin in Sydney in the first week of April.
But while the bar was set high, Solomon and his Australian teammates Ian Halpin, Alex Beck and Tyler Gunn, were more than up for the challenge.
They not only beat runners-up Japan by almost four seconds, but averaged only 45.92 seconds per lap, crossing the finish line in 3:03.67 – the fastest time recorded by an Australian men’s team for this distance in nearly six years.
Toyo University came third, followed by Japan B and Fiji.
In emotional scenes after the race, the four Aussies embraced in a huddle.
For Solomon – who was disqualified in the relay final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games upon being judged to have erred during a baton interchange – the moment held extra resonance.
“It was very pleasing,” Solomon told The AJN on Monday, “[because] the race had a lot riding on the result”.
“I really wanted this team to qualify for the World Relay Championships as I know the event will be extremely important in helping give our younger teammates experience at the highest level ahead of next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“We executed the race to perfection, and I have big expectations and goals for our group [which also includes extended squad members Luke Stevens and Murray Goodwin] moving forward.”
Solomon added that having confidence was the key factor in everyone being able to do their part.
“The belief that we could, and would, run that qualifying time if everything went to plan, was a huge factor, but athletics is much easier on paper than it is on the track.
“I’m really proud of the guys.”
On a personal note, Solomon said the journey of recovery from months of injury was a difficult process, mentally and physically, but “I’m really happy to be running strongly now and seeing immediate results”.
“I’m really fortunate that my family and training squad have kept me in high spirits.
“The body is feeling strong and I’m confident and excited for what’s ahead, and competing at the National Championships in two weeks.”