THE WORLD MIGHT have been shocked by Daniel Roberts’ 13.07 win over Grant Holloway in the SEC 110H, but he knew that good things were coming his way. Speaking to us two days before the big race, he confirmed that his indoor season—topped by a 7.41 runner-up finish behind Holloway in the NCAA—was just one indicator that he’s “definitely on a different level” than last year.
“It’s a combination of a bunch of things,” he explained. “The training is completely different. My focus and the way I think about my races, the way I think about life in general, which is my faith. I’m focusing on that a lot more than I have in past years. I feel like that has made the biggest difference.”
For the 6-0/175 (1.83/79) Kentucky junior, this has been the first year working full-time with Wildcat speed coach Tim Hall after his first two years with Edrick Floréal (now at Texas). The switch, he said, “didn’t really affect me that much, honestly. Ever since we started practicing, everything’s been great. I just give him everything I have and so it’s worked out. I’m not going to change that now.”
There’s another big factor behind Roberts’ stunning improvement. Last year, he seemed poised for great things when he took 2nd at the SEC with a 13.27 PR to Holloway’s 13.15. Then at the NCAA finals it all crumbled. Running in lane 3 in his semi, Roberts found himself behind and started pressing hard. His timing off, he crashed and burned at hurdle 6. That got him DQed. “I think a lot about that day, honestly,” he said. “Just because I know I could have done a lot better and to think that I didn’t even really get the opportunity just, I don’t know, it hurts. “But I feel it all happened for a reason. It just wasn’t my time. But right now, we’re focusing on this year. I’ve taken that into every race. I’ve got to focus on each race. One at a time. Each hurdle, one at a time.” (Continues below)
Roberts also explained that Holloway is why he has gotten so good: “Knowing I have to bring my A-game every time I step on the line makes me train hard every day. Even on days when I don’t feel like it. Grant is pushing me even when he’s not physically there. Just knowing I have to race people like him on the daily, it’s always going to push me on and off the track.” He added, “He’s a great friend. Off the track I don’t have to worry about anything with him. On the track, I give 120% every time I step on the line trying to dethrone him. That’s how it’s going to be for a long time. I’m solid with it.”
Roberts started hurdling in seventh grade when his middle school team needed a hurdler. Since his older brother had been a hurdler, he gave it a go. “I just kept with that.” As a junior in Hampton, Georgia, he placed 2nd at New Balance Nationals with a windy 13.40 and had a legal best of 13.68. That brought plenty of recruiters calling. Then he hurt his right knee playing football and had two surgeries. In the spring, he couldn’t even run, though he high jumped in a few meets. “I couldn’t just come out there and not do anything. When I had enough strength to do a little jog, I did some jumping off my left leg. That was kind of fun, I’m not going to lie.”
But the fear of his hurdle career being over cast a pall on his senior year. Some of his scholarship offers were taken away. “That was a really rough time, mentally, even physically and then coming back and transitioning into college, which made it even harder.” Though he still had full-ride offers on the table, he chose what he remembers as a 70% offer from the Wildcats. “This is where I wanted to be,” the Digital Media/Design major said. “This is where I had the best opportunity to get to where I am today.”
This season, he opened up with a 13.30 behind Holloway at the Florida Relays. Then he won Drake at 13.28w. But he knew, going into the conference meet that he had a lot more under the hood: “Those are obviously great times, but I know for a fact that I can run a whole lot faster than that because even in these races that I ran those times, they either didn’t feel great or the conditions were horrible,” he says. “Once I get that, a good race—it doesn’t have to be perfect—but I know that when I get a good race all the way through with good conditions, that would be something great.” Prophetic words there. Now only Renaldo Nehemiah is ahead of him on the all-time collegiate list, as he and Holloway share the next spot.
“Having that competition is good for the sport,” he concludes. “It’s good for both of us as athletes. And having that friendship is also just good for us as people.”
— UK Track & Field (@KentuckyTrack) May 13, 2019