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Duane Solomon joins the CITIUS MAG Podcast for an exit interview after announcing his retirement on June 20th with an Instagram post. He finished his career as the third-fastest American of all-time in the 800 meters with his 1:42.82 personal best at the 2012 Olympics in London.
In this episode, we’ll go all the way to his high school career and how he managed to find the 800 meters as his specialty event. We’ll look at how his “old school” approach to training started in college at USC and eventually landed him on his first U.S. national team in 2007 in Osaka. He opens up about issues with confidence at the college level and early into his professional career before he eventually erupted in 2012 under the guidance of Johny Gray (the former American record holder). Duane explains why it’s the 2012 Olympic Trials and not the Olympic final that’s the proudest moment of his career. From the warmup area to the call room to the track and off, Duane details his perspective of the London final and David Rudisha’s perfect world record. We unpack the later years of his career like chasing the American in 2013/14, crashing and blacking out at the 2015 U.S. Championships, losing in the first round of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and the curious ending to the final three years of his career. Plus, how he feels he fits into the history of America’s rise to the top of the 800 meters and Donavan Brazier’s world record chances. All that and more…
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Duane: Even during the warmups, you’re watching how everyone else is warming up. David Rudisha warms up very slowly with a slow jog. You’re like, ‘How does he warm up? How does he get his legs warmed up when he’s running that slow.’ Then I’m looking at Abubaker Kaki. That’s another guy who I idolized. I watched him and Rudisha go back and forth. Everyone’s watching everyone because we know who is in the race. We know who we have to race against and have watched each other through the rounds. Everyone’s gauging everyone – what they look like, if they’re ready, if they look like they’re scared. All these emotions are going on while you’re in the warmup.
You get into the hipping tent. Everyone is very intense. They’re doing their blowouts. Everyone is trying to look confident. You could see some people being nervous too. It’s weird because it’s like silence and all you can hear is people hitting their numbers. You’re just like, ‘This is really going to happen. This is crazy.’
Then, they walk you in a line onto the track. You do a few blowouts and then they call everyone in. They announce you guys and then they have us wait in there for a while. They had us waiting for a while for them to say ‘On your marks.’ Once that gun goes off, you just gotta go.
Chris: So in that room, you and Nick don’t talk at all?
Duane: To be honest, I don’t think so. I think maybe the only thing we did was a fist bump. When you’re in that realm, you’re just in your own little bubble. I don’t think anyone is talking to anyone or saying ‘Good luck.’ I don’t know if that ever happened.
Chris: The urban legend behind that race is that before it happened, Rudisha tells Timothy Kitum, “Don’t follow me or you’ll die toward the end.’ I don’t know if they had that conversation one-on-one or if it was private. Did you know? Did anyone in that field know Rudisha was going to do this and go for it?
Duane: I don’t think anyone had an idea. What I thought was that everyone was going to be a little bit winded from the two rounds. I was thinking at best Rudisha was going to run like 1:41 or possibly 1:42 depending on what type of race he makes it. I don’t think anyone knew what was really going to happen. The conditions played very well for everyone. Even once we got to the 200 mark, we knew it was going to be quick. I got to that mark and i could already feel like ‘This is kind of quick’ and we got to the bell lap and were already pushing. It still felt pretty comfortable until we got to 500 or 550. That’s where you can see these guys hit another gear. You’re thinking, ‘Guys, this is a little early to hit this gear. We have a lot of race left.’ So they hit it pretty early and I wasn’t ready to do that yet. I can see that they’re getting away from me but I’m a little complacent. I don’t go until a little later on. Once I get to the 600 mark, I can see they’re kind of coming back a little bit. They’re starting to come back and that’s when I start to run and open up. We came down the straightaway and I could see Rudisha way up there. He’s already crossing the line and it says World Record. I’m like ‘Damn. He just ran a world record. That’s crazy’ and I’m still over here trying to get the bronze or a medal and he’s already done. It was definitely an epic race but I definitely didn’t know all the talkings of him and Timothy Kitum. Because Kitum wasn’t even a guy who was on my radar in that race. I was looking at Rudisha, Nijel Amos, Nick Symmonds, Mohammed Aman and Kaki. Those are the guys that I thought I have to beat to get a medal. Kitum was a surprise for everyone as well.
Chris: What does that final 100 physically feel like because you end up passing two people in that final 100 meters. It’s fourth place. 1:42.82 at the Olympics. The time is amazing but just shy of a medal.
Duane: After that race, I felt like I left a little too late. I didn’t really trust myself enough to go a little earlier. That’s what it was. I had enough at the end where I thought ‘If I had that much, I should’ve used it earlier.’ That’s the only regret I can have in that race – not going for it early enough and waiting until I started to see people tying up. That gave me an extra boost of knowing ‘Oh! They’re getting tired now. Let me add a little bit more effort into this now.’
Chris: Johnny has the concept of The Gray Zone or The Twilight Zone – where you go out hard and if you die, you die. Was this a Gray Zone race? You’re not the one in the front commanding it but Rudisha sort of did that.
Duane: For me, it felt a little different because I’m so used to being in the front and I was kind of in the middle of the pack. That felt a little weird. I was a little jumbled up. It definitely felt different from any other race before in my life. I think when I was racing, I didn’t really know what to do. I was in a place of reacting to what I should do now? When should I go? If this guy is way up there, I don’t really have a target guy of who I’m trying to catch? Everything was all over the place. I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I got to the 600 mark.
Chris: I think it’s the perfect race. When someone asks me to show them a really cool race, I’ll pull up the 800 meter final from the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials because of the theatrics but if you want to see the most beautiful and perfectly executed race, I pull up Rudisha’s world record from London. Do you think it’s the perfect race? When you watch it, what do you look at?
Duane: First of all, you look at positioning and where you put yourself in that first 200. Rudisha knew he had to get to the front. He was going to do anything possible to get his position. He commanded it and he knew he wanted to dictate the pace. He knew what race he wanted to do that day. He knew that he wanted to run that quick. Amos even put himself in position as well. What I did wrong was I got too complacent and let everyone go ahead. I wasn’t ready. That’s the race you want to look at and say ‘This is how you run the 800 meters.’ You can’t break world records unless you go for it. All the guys who have broken the world record have gone for it. You can look at Sebastian Coe, Wilson Kipketer and Rudisha go from the gun. That’s always the way I wanted to race. From the gun to the end, I wanted to take it out. If you’re an 800 guy coming up in high school or whatever, you can either choose to be the sit and kicker or choose to be the guy who is in the lead and dictates. I think we’ve seen from Donavan Brazier that he can run either way. He can run from the back or the front but I think his best races are the ones where he runs from the front.
Later on in the podcast…
Chris: As you’re phasing out of your professional career, you do get a glimpse of the next generation because Donavan Brazier came down to Florida and trained with you guys. What was it that you noticed about him as this talent that was coming up in the United States?
Duane: It was weird because Donavan told us the things he did in training and for us, it was like, ‘That’s crazy that you’re only doing that and running this fast. Imagine if you added this to your repertoire like how good you would be…’
Chris: Because he doesn’t run more than 35 miles a week and I don’t think he likes going on runs beyond four or five miles.
Duane: It was crazy because I remember we were racing a 600 together. I say, ‘Aye man, I’m gonna go warm up.’ He said. ‘Alright, I’ll go with you.’ We literally ran across the street for maybe like five minutes and then was like ‘I’m gonna go back.’ That’s it?! It’s snowing outside! I know he’s not warmed up yet. So I’m just like, ‘How is this dude so good to only be doing this much?’ I knew he was already talented. When he came to train with us, I don’t think he was ready for that type of training yet. It was a little too intense and too quick to happen. It needed to be a transition where he could work his way into it. I think the kind of workload that we did was a little too much at that time. He was very talented and I kind of wish he stuck with us a little longer. It probably would have helped out all of us, to be honest. When he left is when injuries started to happen again and it was all bad from there.
Chris: What’s it been like for you to see the next level that the 800 has taken for the U.S.?
Duane: I think it’s great. I think it makes for good racing and records. It’s very exciting to watch these guys come up. If you look back at the early 2010s and 2000s, Americans weren’t really competing internationally with the East Africans and all these other nations, right? Now, after me and Nick, they’re keeping that competitiveness alive still and they’re making it even better now. It’s to the point where we’re not just medal threats, we’re contenders for the gold. We’re looking like the best in that event now. It’s a changing of the guard but also a changing of the guard for nations as well. Now, they’re looking at us as the best in the 800 too.
Chris: It’s got to feel good to be part of that history and that timeline that you just mentioned.
Duane: It is, man. Back in like 2011 and 2010, it was just good to make the team and just to make it out of the first round. Now, it’s not enough for the people watching at home. They don’t want to see you just make it. They want to see you go and get a medal or something like that. The minds have changed as far as how people look at us now. They want to see you win. They want to see you out there getting medals now because they know what we can do. We know what we can do. Now that we’ve set the bar so high, now we want it to stay there.
Chris: Let’s get a little bolder. Do you think Donavan has it in him to possibly break Rudisha’s world record? We talked about how great that race was. He’s getting up there in terms of time. If we were to have asked this question in 2013 or something like that, you’d kind of think that unless it was Rudisha then that’s a little bit crazy. Seeing Donavan continue to run really well, Nijel Amos is somehow back after a little bit of a lull in his career…is it crazy to think?
Duane: I think he will break it. If you watched his race when he broke the American record, it was so easy and it wasn’t even from the front. He ran it from running kind of in the back. If he actually exerts his energy and actually goes for it…pshhh…he might, man, 1:39 maybe.
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