July 17, 2012
Racism scandal dogs Australia’s only Jewish Olympic athlete
The only Jewish athlete on Australia’s Olympic team unwittingly has been drawn into a racism scandal on the eve of the London Games.
Steven Solomon, 19, of Sydney, was selected to represent Australia in the 400-meter race ahead of John Steffensen, a 29-year-old Australian of South African descent, who defeated Solomon at the Olympic trials earlier this year, though neither had the needed qualifying time.
But Solomon won the bronze medal at the World Junior Athletics Championships in Barcelona last weekend with a personal best time and anchored the 4x400-meter relay team to fourth place, prompting Athletics Australia officials to call him their “rising star.”
Steffensen, who won a silver medal in the relays at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and two Commonwealth gold medals, threatened to boycott the London Games after he heard the decision.
“I’ve put up with being racially vilified by this federation, being discriminated against on many teams,” Steffensen, who has aboriginal ancestry, said of Athletics Australia. “You know it would help if I was a different color.”
Steffensen on Monday said he was given a provisional entry for the 400 meters by Athletics Australia, Reuters reported. But the news service reported that AA chief executive Dallas O’Brien told Fox Sports TV that “it is very clear at the moment that Steve is the first and only choice from Athletics Australia selectors.”
Solomon, who was captain of the Australian junior football team at the 2009 Maccabiah Games, has not been drawn into the scandal. Both runners have been selected for the 4x400 relay.
Remarkably, Solomon did not have any formal athletics training before 2009. After the Games, he will accept a scholarship to study medicine at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.