After “failing” to win Olympic gold, Grant Holloway, Noah Lyles, & Trayvon Bromell are focusing on the positives as 2022 gets underway
By Jonathan Gault
February 5, 2022
In terms of gold medals, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo were the least successful ever for American men’s sprinters. Americans began last season favored to win the 100, 200, and 110 hurdles in Japan, with strong chances in the 400 and 400 hurdles, yet won none of them, the first time that had happened in 126 years of Olympic competition.
Coming up short is not something they tell you about, when you’re chasing that Olympic dream growing up. You picture the podium, you picture the gold medal, you picture the celebrations. You don’t picture the walk through the neverending mixed zone when you come in as the world leader and don’t even make the 100-meter final or the questions when you earn a silver medal but were expected to win gold. But that is part of the deal when you run at the Olympics, and if you plan on making it back to another, you learn how to deal with it.
The “struggles” of the US men in Tokyo if we are going to use gold medals as the definition of success — shot put maestro Ryan Crouser was the lone American to take home an individual gold in track & field last year — were well-documented, a storyline that Trayvon Bromell (did not make final), Grant Holloway (silver), and Noah Lyles (bronze) have now had to live with for the last six months. Now those same men, some of the biggest stars in their sport, are beginning a year in which the United States will host track & field’s World Championships for the first time.
All three men will race in tomorrow’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix (NBIGP) in Staten Island. Lyles, 24, and Bromell, 26, began their 2022 campaigns at last week’s Millrose Games whereas the NBIGP will be the season opener for the 24-year-old Holloway. At today’s pre-meet press conference, a journalist noted that neither Holloway, the silver medalist in the 110 hurdles, nor Lyles, the bronze medalist in the 200, won the medal they likely wanted in Tokyo last year.
Press conferences, as a general rule, tend to drag. You hear a lot of boilerplate responses (in part due to boilerplate questions); genuine insight is far more likely to come from a one-on-one interview. But Holloway’s press conferences are rarely boring, not just because he is an entertainer by nature, but because he will tell it to you straight. Three years ago, when I asked Holloway why he lost to rival Daniel Roberts at the SEC Championships, he told me it was because he “ran like shit” before running through a list of his mistakes from the race.
Which is why he felt it was important to put his defeat in Tokyo in context. In the moment, yes, he was disappointed; Holloway ran 26 hurdle races in 2021, and his only defeat came in the one that mattered most, the Olympic final. But with time to reflect, his view has changed.
“I’m sorry if this comes off as, excuse my language, as an asshole, but that’s what sports is,” Holloway said. “We’re not disappointed, because we got a medal for our country. From a media standpoint, people say it’s a disappointment. But for us, we did something that not a lot of people are able to do. We’re young in the sport, we’re able to keep growing. We’re able to keep going more than most people can say in a lifetime. So for you guys to say it’s a disappointment, it’s not really a bash on us, but at the same time, we’re figuring out what we want to do in our life.
“Sports, any given Sunday, anything can happen. In this sport, the thing is, it’s called consistency. No matter where you’re at in the world, you could be in Italy, you could be in Arkansas, you could be here in Staten Island, your job is to be consistent at what you do. Your job is to be consistent at asking the questions and us giving a response. In sports, we’ve gotta be able to do the same thing, no matter if we’re in Madrid, no matter if we’re in Boston, Arkansas, California, Oregon, our job is to be consistent at what we do.
“And at that stage, were we consistent? Probably not. But at that stage, we were still able to do something unforgettable for our country. You can add anything you want to add, but I just want to get that out there so any other reporter, anybody else that asks that question, let’s just throw it in the past. It was last year, let’s leave it alone. We got a medal, let’s leave it at that.”
That is how Holloway has come to terms with his defeat in Tokyo. It is what he needs to do to move on as he attacks world indoor and outdoor titles in 2022. Lyles is trying a different approach. Unlike Holloway, he is disappointed with his result in Tokyo (he actually interrupted Holloway’s monologue above to say as much). But that disappointment has been tempered with perspective.
“I remember when my agent told me Tyson Gay doesn’t have an Olympic medal,” Lyles said. “I’m like, what? This is the American record holder, the second-fastest person ever to live, doesn’t have an Olympic medal. That is crazy, and it goes to the consistency that Grant is talking about. You have to be at the right place at the right time and run as fast as you can at that moment and be consistent as possible. And even when I look at that race, I’m like, wow, I still ran 19.7 and at the Olympic Trials, I ran 19.7. That was consistency to a T. It just wasn’t my PR. And I’ve gotta be okay with that.”
Bromell doesn’t have an Olympic medal to fall back on like Holloway and Lyles. Instead, he has refocused for 2022 by concentrating on what he did accomplish last year. The fact that Bromell, after barely racing at all from the end of 2016 to the start of 2020 due to a devastating Achilles injury, was able to win the US title and run a world-leading 9.76 last year (tied for 6th on the all-time list) is among the most unlikely comebacks in the history of the sport. But Bromell did not get his fairytale ending in Tokyo, and now he fears that is the only thing that people will remember about his 2021 season.
“I feel like off of last year, a lot of people had a lot of comments about what happened with my season and obviously with the Olympics, but not really seeing the big picture that I was out of the sport for so long,” Bromell said. “A lot of people could probably take my same story and not many people would make it bad. I had been out for four years, came back and had this season where I ran 9.7 twice, 9.8 multiple times, and it seemed like all that got shunned upon just because of one race.”
Holloway, Lyles, and Bromell are all still in their primes. Holloway and Lyles, as defending world champions, are already assured of a spot at this summer’s World Championships in Eugene. Bromell will be favored to earn a spot and remains a gold-medal contender. They know there will be more attention moving forward, more narratives, more analysis, as that meet draws closer. They have tried to make their peace with 2021 but a new season is here. They can’t afford to spend any more time dwelling on the past. It’s time to race.