By Jonathan Gault
October 2, 2019
DOHA, Qatar — After he had had a few minutes to let his first world title sink in, Grant Holloway was asked how he would celebrate it.
“I’ma go find me a fat-ass glass of wine.”
If anyone has earned a drink this year, it’s the 21-year-old Holloway, who began this season on January 18 competing for the University of Florida in an indoor 60-meter hurdle race in Clemson, S.C., and finished it, 258 days and 7,300 miles away in front of a mostly empty stadium in Doha, by running 13.10 seconds to win the 110-meter hurdles for Team USA at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships.
In between, he ran 48 more races ranging across six disciplines from the 60 meters to the 4×400 relay (not counting eight long jump competitions) at 16 meets in seven US states and three continents. He has run at least one race in each of the first 10 months of 2019.
Tonight, in the most important one of all, Holloway was out of the blocks quick. The first man in the field to clear hurdle one, Holloway guarded that lead for the next 80 meters from reigning world champ Omar McLeod of Jamaica until McLeod hit hurdle nine and eventually clattered to the track following hurdle 10. McLeod’s fall had a dramatic impact on the race — he fell into the lane to his right, causing Orlando Ortega of Spain to slow and fall out of medal position — but not the winner, which was Holloway, wire-to-wire.
Sergey Shubenkov of Russia, the 2015 world champ competing as an authorized neutral athlete, earned silver for the second Worlds in a row in 13.15 with France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde nabbing his first outdoor global medal in third in 13.18.
From time to time this year, Holloway’s performance has dipped during this never-ending season. If we’re being honest, those dips weren’t all that low, but Holloway is a perfectionist — “if you go on [my] YouTube search history, it’s just 110 hurdles” — and under his microscope, small flaws seem larger. At the SEC outdoor championships at Arkansas in May, Holloway felt he “ran like shit” in finishing second to Kentucky’s Daniel Roberts in 13.12 (even though 13.12 ranked as the #4 time in the world at that point). He had to dive at the line, Superman-style, in the US final in Des Moines just to make the World Championship team (Holloway ran 13.36, just .03 ahead of 4th). And in his first career Diamond League meet in Paris on August 24, he finished just sixth in 13.25.
“It was just bad meet after bad meet after bad meet,” Holloway said. “Practices weren’t going well…I just sucked.”
The fact is though, that Holloway had far more good meets than bad in 2019, especially during the collegiate season, where he took on a Herculean workload to a power Florida to an NCAA title indoors and a runner-up finish outdoors.
Indoors, Holloway completed an audacious double by winning both the 60-meter dash and the 60-meter hurdles — the first time that sweep had been accomplished since 2000 — and tacked on a third-place finish in the long jump and a leg on the third-place 4×400 relays to have a hand in 32 of the Gators’ 55 points. Oh, and he broke the American and collegiate records in the 60 hurdles (7.35 seconds).
Outdoors, he traded the 60 for the 4×100 (which Florida won in collegiate-record time) and the 60 hurdles for the 110’s, becoming the first collegian ever under 13 seconds (12.98) and in the process erasing Renaldo Nehemiah’s legendary NCAA record from 1979.
Even in the moment, there was a sense that Holloway might have peaked for 2019 at the NCAA meet in Austin. The World Championships, still almost four months away, had their latest start date ever, and the team-oriented Holloway had been a workhorse for the Gators for six months. It was a lot to ask of a 21-year-old to carry world title-winning form all the way to October, and after the defeat at USAs and the 6th in Paris, Holloway seemed to be fading.
Holloway, however, never lost faith. As he has through the good times and bad, he called on his support system — led by coach Mike Holloway (they are distant cousins), his parents, Stan and Tasha, and his girlfriend, Florida softball player Katie Chronister — to help him through it. And they did. Holloway ran 13.22 — his fastest time since July 9 — to cruise through Monday’s preliminary round in Doha. After he ran 13.10 in tonight’s semifinal, it was clear the old Holloway was back.
“I shouldn’t be holding up this flag,” Holloway said, stars and stripes draped around his neck, “this shouldn’t be my medal. This medal should belong to [my inner circle]. None of this is for me.”
Sub-13 was Holloway’s primary goal this year, but “make it to October” had always been in the back of his mind, and he wasn’t going to allow the collegiate season to become an excuse (he turned pro in June, signing with adidas). With sub-13 behind them, the two Holloways, Mike and Grant, met in the former’s office after the NCAA outdoor meet and mapped out how they would handle the roughly 100 days remaining until the World Championships. The biggest message the elder Holloway impressed upon the younger Holloway: Mike had things under control.
“Not at one point did I ever get worried,” Grant said. “…At no point did he ever, ever give up on me. Even when I was running like crap.”
The Holloways rewarded each others’ faith, and proved Grant’s choice of Florida for college and his uncommon choice to give up football for track as the correct one (Editor’s note: Coming out of HS, Holloway could have gone to virtually any school he wanted as he had scholarship offers from almost two dozen schools, but ultimately chose Florida over SEC rival Georgia) .
“The question that I always had was: do you want to walk when you’re 30 or do you want to be in a wheelchair by 35?” Holloway said. “I’ll take my chances going over some hurdles.”
Now that his season is over, Grant Holloway just one more hurdle to clear: tracking down a glass of wine in a country that has just one liquor store.
Holloway post-race interview
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