“Every athlete felt crushed by Simone Biles,” said Solomon, an ambassador for the Australian Institute of Sport’s mental fitness program. Herald before the World Championships in Athletics which begin this week in Oregon.
“Here is an athlete who has hardly ever lost and it occurs to her that there is a chance that she will lose. It was incredibly eye-opening for the whole athlete community and the whole world community that you can be at the top of your game forever, but if you don’t practice the skills and take the time to be aware of how different things can go wrong – including mind and body – then you won’t not protect as best you can.
“I think athletes are really starting to talk about it more and that’s a positive thing.”
Solomon says he’s never suffered from depression or mental health issues, but is all too familiar with performance anxiety.
It almost cost him a place on the starting line in Tokyo.
“I’ve seen the mind play tricks,” Solomon says. “Walking into the call room in Tokyo, my mind was trying to get me out of this situation. It was like, ‘Steve, don’t compete’.
“Eight weeks before the Olympics, I wasn’t running. I tore my calf. I had only participated in one competition in 2021, namely the national championships, which I lost for the first time because I was unable to regain my health. First it was my back, my calf, then my other calf. This generates a lot of stress.
“I take a biological approach. My understanding is that we were designed through evolution to survive and anything that is perceived as a threat from an evolutionary perspective, our body tries to push us away from it. So when we go out and expose ourselves to competition, where we put our reputation on the line…part of the nervousness is the risk of losing and failing. It’s seen as a threat…that’s why the spirit goes there.
“Getting over that and continuing to run the fastest time I’ve ever run in my life in Tokyo, beating a personal best that I’ve had for nine years, beating the world record holder, all of those things confirmed that it’s just what happens in the mind.
“I’m grateful that I didn’t have this deep depression…but I know many athletes who do.”
Once Solomon crossed the finish line in 44.94 seconds in his heat – a personal best – he couldn’t control what happened next.
“I just started screaming. I stopped and looked at the board. I cannot describe it. It was very emotional,” Solomon says.
“When Ash Barty won the Australian Open earlier this year, she just had this primal scream. Missing out on Rio was a buildup towards that. I think it was a really important experience in my life.
Retirement is not yet on the agenda for Solomon. Although he has a day job at Uber Eats, he will be captain of Australia’s athletics team at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in August and has the drive and desire to work until the Paris Olympics in 2024. .
“It’s a nice break from the stress,” Solomon says of his day job. “If you spend all day thinking about the workout that’s going to make you throw up on the floor, on top of headaches, fatigue and soreness…it’s not as productive as going spend your time and energy on something else.”
Between a busy schedule, Solomon found time to walk the Harbor Bridge earlier this year to raise money for the Black Dog Institute, as part of BridgeClimb Sydney’s ‘Climb for a Cause’ event, which raised over $70,000.
“I love the attention to the mental side of everything,” Solomon says.
The 400m heats start on Sunday and will be a great dress rehearsal for the one-lap race in Birmingham next month.
“The 400 meter event is probably the most competitive of the Commonwealth Games,” Solomon said. “We have world record holder Wayde van Niekerk who is from South Africa. We have current world and Olympic champion Steven Gardiner who is from the Bahamas. We also have the guys from Trinidad and Tobago.
“We’ll have to see who shows up and who recovers well from Birmingham, but if I can get there with a good training block under my belt, the hope is to bring home some silverware.”
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