Australian sprinter Steven Solomon qualified for the Olympics 400 meters final with a second consecutive personal best time.
Solomon, 19, who only took up professional sprinting in 2009, finished third in his semifinal heat on Sunday in London, but his time of 44.97 was good enough to advance to Monday’s final. He was seventh among the eight qualifiers
With the top two qualifying automatically for the final, the former Maccabi soccer star had an agonizing wait to see if his time was good enough to make the final.
“I’m absolutely stoked,” Solomon told the media after the race. “I came into the race really nervous. I really wanted to make the final. I really believed in myself and when I crossed the line, I saw that I had broken the 45 [second] barrier.
“Two personal bests in two days. I am just really looking forward to the final and giving it absolutely everything I have for myself and my country.”
Solomon’s coach, Ukranian immigrant Fira Dvoskina, was elated as she watched the race live in Sydney.
“We talked yesterday on Skype and I told him what mistakes he made when he ran the heat and he said he’ll fix it,” she told JTA. “He ran 44.97—I cannot believe it.”
Dvoskina said his goal is to run 44.80 in the final, but she is not sure that’ll be good enough to win a medal.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Australia has not had a male 400 meters runner in the Olympic final for a very long time. He is one of the top eight runners in the world.”
Harry Procel, a Maccabi Australia veteran who is in London at the Olympic Stadium with the Solomon family, told JTA that Solomon “did brilliantly to win his heat.”
“He ran a beautifully controlled race and handled the pressure with aplomb,” Procel said.
A day earlier Solomon, in his Olympics debut, won his heat to reach the semifinals in a time of 45.18, also a personal best. He defeated the defending Olympic champion Lashawn Merritt, who pulled up with a hamstring injury, and finished eighth fastest in the seven heats.
His previous best of 45.52 had come three weeks ago at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona. Based on the performance, Athletics Australia had selected Solomon, the captain of the junior soccer team at the 2009 Maccabiah Games, ahead of veteran John Steffensen, a black sprinter of South African descent who alleged racial discrimination. It sparked a bitter race row in which Solomon was unwittingly in the middle.