Surprise packet ... Steve Solomon. Photo: Iain Gillespie
FIRA DVOSKINA, the 77-year-old Ukrainian immigrant coach of Olympic surprise packet Steve Solomon, has predicted her 400m runner would win at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Before she emigrated to Australia in 1995 when the collapse of the Iron Curtain made life unbearable for the elderly in the Ukraine, Dvoskina, whose husband Boris was selected to represent the Soviet Union in the 4 x 400m relay at the 1952 Helsinki Games but did not compete, was immersed in the Soviet sports system and coached many national teams.
However, the development of 19-year-old Solomon from a boy who couldn't make the Cranbrook school's athletic team to London Olympic 400 m track finalist and world junior bronze medallist, was considered a crowning moment.
"Of course I am proud, very proud it is my work," said Dvoskina. "My athletes are like my kids, my sons and daughters. Steve is like [a] grandson. I love them all so much. They will tell you Fira is our grandma.
"I have coached for 55 years. It is my life. I love coaching, love to teach. I love being with the guys. I give my heart, my knowledge and my time to my boys.
"He is a good kid. Steve is strong inside. Last September he had a very bad tear in his hamstring – seven centimetres long – it was cured in January [just] before his first [Olympic qualifying] competition in February at Perth but we planned his year [and it worked]."
Dvoskina was adamant that after being blooded in London, Solomon was capable of conquering the world at Brazil in four years' time.
"Of course," she enthused. "Of course he can. He did what he did [at London] in [just] two-and-a-half years of training [with me].
"[Considering] what he has already achieved [in such a short time] he's already on the track at Rio."
Nevertheless, she was annoyed to have coached Solomon for his Olympic baptism over the internet because Athletics Australia did not provide her with accreditation to attend the Games or the pre-Olympic training camp at Tonbridge.
Solomon's family paid for Dvoskina to accompany him to the world junior championships in Barcelona, but she was homeward bound when the selectors picked him to run at London.
"I needed to be there with him," she said. "At Barcelona he was very good. He won the bronze medal and ran a personal best. They gave him permission to run at the Olympics on 10th of July. I [had] come home from Barcelona.
[Athletics Australia] did not believe he could run like that, only I believe in his result. He can run very fast.
"I am pensioner, I am a volunteer and don't earn money . . . Athletics Australia give me $500 to prepare him to Barcelona and $500 for London . . . The [plane] ticket costs more.
Dvoskina is proud Solomon will soon head to the US to study medicine at Stanford University. However, she said thanks to the internet that wouldn't mean an end to their extraordinary relationship.