T&FN Interview — Grant Holloway

A do-it-all in high school and as a collegian, Grant Holloway is adjusting to being purely a hurdler. (ANDREW McCLANAHAN/PHOTO RUN)

COMPETING HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE. That was Grant Holloway’s thing for 5 prep and collegiate seasons prior to 2020. Not everywhere with respect to locale, but the Virginia native’s spike prints ranged all over the sprints/hurdles/jumps spectrum at the meets where he came to play. (Continued below)

From early on, especially indoors on the vibrant East Coast prep circuit, when Holloway played, he scrapped for all the marbles. Certainly this was true of his junior season at Chesapeake’s Grassfield High when he captured our HS Boys Indoor Athlete Of The Year honors. At State that year he placed 3rd in the 55, 2nd in the 300, 1st in the 55H, 2nd in the high jump and 1st in the long jump. All that before traveling to the New Balance Indoor Nationals and tearing to a junior-class record in the 60H, the event in which he sped a then-HSR the following season.

You’ll well remember where Holloway took his versatility from there: to Mike “Mouse” Holloway’s Florida squad, where he powered to six NCAA hurdle titles, indoors & out, in his three collegiate years before turning pro after ’19. As a Gator, he continued to excel all over the ballistic speed universe as the most crucial cog in the scoring machine that netted three NCAA team titles (’17 Outdoor plus the Indoors of ’18 & ’19) and a trio of runner-up showings for his team. In the tight two days of the ’19 Indoor, Holloway won the 60 along with the hurdles (with an American Record 7.35), placed 3rd in the long jump and cranked the fastest leg on Florida’s 3rd-place 4×4.

How could he top that? Well, at the Outdoor in Austin, he helped Florida to its Collegiate Record 37.97 in the 4×1, made himself history’s first sub-13 collegiate hurdler and ripped a 43.74 anchor on the 4×4. All within just over a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Oh, yes. Four months later Holloway, though a neophyte on the elite pro stage, claimed hurdles gold at the World Championships in Doha—0.05 clear of ’15 titlist Sergey Shubenkov in 2nd.

And along came 2020 with its screeching halt to normality a month after Holloway had claimed the yearly 60H world lead at 7.38 just testing his chops in a domestic fixture. For the now adidas-sponsored pro his workload dropped from 42 individual races and 8 long jump comps in ’19 to 9 trips to hurdles start lines in shoulda-been-Olympic-year ’20.

Destiny denied. Or delayed. Holloway is primed to explore that question.

In late November we caught up with him by phone in Gainesville, where he is still a student and in the able and trusted coaching hands of Mouse, a distant cousin.

T&FN: How are things?

Holloway: Pretty good. Pretty good. I just wrapped up my day. Now I’m over here just relaxing, trying to get some rest in.

T&FN: Well, then you must be getting the work in.

Holloway: Right.

T&FN: I guess I’ll start out by asking this. You were an Ironman throughout high school, throughout college, tons of meets, tons of events. And then all of a sudden we get this 2020 year and very limited competition. What was it like to downshift from 60 to zero in that fashion?

Holloway: It was definitely horrible. It’s one of those things where 2020 was just—there was a lot going on this year, you know? There was nothing that we could do to even fix it. It was just one of those things, but other than that you sit back and you just hold it down.

T&FN: Such a dramatic shift in the routine. Was it tough for you psychologically or did you and Mouse just buckle down with a new plan?

Holloway: Exactly. We kind of just roll with the punches. You know that’s all you can do. So then from there we just took it one day at a time. And there were some days where we had to quarantine because people in our group had had the virus, and stuff like that. But other than that we just took it a day at a time and we just hoped and prayed.

T&FN: That’s close to home when people in your training group, your friends, have the virus. Has everyone returned to good health?

Holloway: Perfect. Everybody’s perfect in the group. So right now we’re getting ready for this 2021 season. We don’t know what’s going to hold, we don’t know what’s going to happen, and right now in a sense, we’re taking it one day at a time.

It’s good to have some normalcy back where we can actually train at the school and all that good stuff. But other than that, it’s one of the things now where we just sit back, relax and just hope for the best?

T&FN: Is there anything that you and Mouse have kind of made a project to work on with all that time to work and not having to worry about anything close to a full slate of competitions? Was there any particular aspect of your race or fitness levels in certain areas, anything like that you worked on?

Holloway: Definitely. You know, I’ve always—I don’t want to say always—struggled, but the latter half of my race has always been something I want to work on. So now we kind of just sit back—since we have all this time—and now we’re able to work on certain things in our race and my race pattern that otherwise we’re not able to work with. So really just taking the time and pulling all of 2020 to really work on the later half of my race.

I was 22 years old [when the year began]. I got a little bit more wiser, a little bit more order in me. Now I’m able to really just sit back and figure out what is wrong, you know, what can I do to get better?

T&FN: That all makes sense. I thought it was interesting that after you won the gold in Doha you said that you went through a brief period in the summer of 2019 where you felt like you had forgotten how to hurdle. You had an NCAA Championships for the ages, won in your Euro Circuit debut at the Gyulai Memorial with 13.16 and then obviously made the Worlds team at the USATF Champs. But then came the Paris Diamond League and a good time, 13.25. But talk about a loaded field! You placed 6th, which could not have boosted your confidence 5 weeks out from the World Championships. What did you mean when you said, “I just literally forgot how to run the hurdles”?

Holloway: Just in a sense that you practice so much but then you just forget what exactly is happening. I still remembered how to hurdle, but it just wasn’t what Grant Holloway is used to, you know?

T&FN: What kind of conversations did you and Mouse have that got you into the right mental and physical space for Doha?

Holloway: Uh, definitely, it was a lot of curse-out sessions and “I don’t understand, he doesn’t understand what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling.” But it came to a point where we just kind of sat back and we both figured out what exactly makes me click. And at the point he kind of just let me “do me.” It was like you get to the first hurdle as fast as you can, and then you just be Grant Holloway. So I kinda just took that with a grain of salt and I just let it be. [In the WC final] I just took off, I did my best ability and I just told myself I wanted to be the first one to the first hurdle. And from there I just let it roll.

T&FN: Quick story regarding perspective. You had won your World Champs semi in 13.10. Omar McLeod and Orlando Ortega had won the other semis. Having watched from the stands what you brought out of yourself to win three outdoor NCAA crowns, and even what you did to take two USATF 2nds, with three of those finals in fairly miserable conditions—though the in-stadium weather in Doha was good—I turned to my colleague Jeff Hollobaugh on my left in the press tribune and said something like, “OK, let’s see what Holloway can do?” A European friend and colleague sitting to my right blurted, “Holloway?!” I said something like, “Let’s see.”

Your Doha doubter’s perspective as a writer and commentator who spends a lot more time on the Diamond League circuit than Jeff and I get to was perfectly understandable. Nevertheless, you made me look good. Thank you. I just had a feeling after the semi.

Holloway: You know, these are the things that I love to hear. Only because I firmly and strongly agree that the NCAA meet is a Diamond League in a sense. It’s just you’re a little bit younger. But I mean honestly, it was up to not just me but everybody in my circle to help me out at that meet. I couldn’t have done it without my group, without my team. So my hat goes off—even to people like you saying I’m the favorite and actually telling people who the F that I am. Definitely.

T&FN: U.S. fans have seen you coming for a while. I wrote a story about you in the spring of 2015. You had just clinched T&FN High School Indoor Athlete Of The Year honors with a season that included a junior-class 60H record, 7.59. You already had the soph-class record, you had high jumped 6-11½, and pushed Noah Lyles all the way in a 300 matchup among other eye-opening achievements. Then came your busy, mind-blowing Florida career. After 5 seasons as an ironman, did this unlooked-for almost-off year confer some benefit?

Holloway: Absolutely. Like you said, you’ve been following me so much throughout my whole career, so you know how much I’ve been going through. So definitely to have this year off, just this year to recuperate and this year to figure out who I am as a person trying to figure out who is Grant Holloway, has been a wonderful experience. You know, I owe it to my mom, I owe it to my dad about everything going on right now.

T&FN: Your training group, too, I imagine. Who exactly is out there laboring alongside you with Mouse?

Holloway: Yeah, so my training group is full of everybody. We’ve got [200] Collegiate Record holder Kyra Jefferson, we’ve got 2-time NCAA [400H] champion Eric Futch and runner-up in 2016 T.J. Holmes. You got [high hurdler] Eddie Lovett [NCAA runner-up in ’13]. You have so many people that are great people and ready to get active about it with you. (Continued below)

T&FN: You had a few races in 2020: One indoor meet where you claimed the 60H world lead for a third consecutive year. Then a couple of domestic outdoor tuneups in July and two Euro appearances 5 days apart in August, Székesfehérvár and the Monaco DL. You ran good times—13.19 and 13.22—but might have gone faster with more meets to find your rhythm. Why did you head home instead?

Holloway: I think I was just trying to do the bare minimum just to make sure that adidas was happy with me. And then also to make sure that I knew where I was with this year with everything going on. As you know, COVID stopped meets, canceled meets, put-together meets. It was just so—I mean, to open up my season at 7.38 and then COVID hit and then still be able to run 13.1, I think I was in great shape. I think I just wasn’t in hurdle shape.

What I mean by that was I just didn’t have enough hurdle races under my belt. I had a lot of practices, I had a crap ton of practices, but just not enough reps against people, against great competition—people like Orlando Ortega, Sergey [Shubenkov], Omar [McLeod]. I didn’t have nobody next to me. So I think just this year I have to take it as a win. I mean, even though I did get 4th and 2nd [in the Euro races], I still got to see it as a win and then just move forward from it.

T&FN: Did you have ongoing dialog with adidas about their expectations and when they had been met?

Holloway: Yeah, honestly it was just to a point where they wanted me to run some meets. If I was able to run they wanted me to run. So at the end of the day they were happy with me, I was happy with them. I think we came to a compromise on, “OK, we’re in a pandemic but then at the same time let’s figure out how we can still be able to make money on both our parts.”

T&FN: You have said Mouse will decide if you will ever long jump again. Any further developments on that question?

Holloway: [Laughing] No, probably not. Long jump, unless I can make a shit-ton of money with it, is in the books, man. I really wish I could, I had fun with it, but I mainly did it for my team just to make sure everybody was happy.

T&FN: I’m guessing as you approach your first full pro season, an Olympic season, your driving purpose will be to try to establish yourself as a dominant 110 hurdler. What about the future, though? Might you mix in other events, the 100, 200 or even the 400? Fans would probably be intrigued by, say, a “hurdlers 400 clash,” Grant Holloway, Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin.

Holloway: That would be one for the books. I am definitely open to it. I am definitely excited to even run against those people. But then at the main point, I’m at the point in my life where I want to be the best hurdler in the world. I already proved it on a world level. I want to be able to prove it on the indoor world level and the outdoor Olympic level. And then once I complete that saga, or that trip, I’ll be able to flirt around with other events and figure out what I want to do. (Continued below)

T&FN: I noticed this past weekend you worked with some kids at a USATF Run/Jump/Throw event. Tell me a little about that: fun day?

Holloway: It was absolutely fun, being able to give back to your community and take care of the kids. It’s been one of the great experiences. Just with COVID everybody’s been in the house doing other things and there’s just been a lot of irregular stuff going on. But to have that has been amazing.

T&FN: Do you run the kids through drills or what exactly?

Holloway: Just making sure they’re just having fun. We did hurdle drills, we did bounding, we did sprint stuff. It’s just one of those things where if they were smiling and having fun and able to get out of the house I think it was a win in our book.

T&FN: You have clarified your immediate athletic goals. What about more philosophic aspirations for leaving your mark in this sport and for the sport?

Holloway: I would definitely say just being able to be the best person I can be. There’s a lot going on in the world right now. I mean, you have a change of presidents, you have just a lot of stuff going on in general. So really my thing is just to be the best person I can be, no matter if that’s on the track or off the track—just figuring out ways to be a better Grant. Making people smile is definitely on my list, but then really just figuring out how, you know, what makes people tick? What makes people smile? What makes people do this or that? So I definitely would say that’s what I’m up to now, what I’m trying to do. But then other than that boss, honestly, it’s just trying to, be the best person I can be and just figure out how I can smile myself.

T&FN: What is it that has always made you smile about track & field, if I may put it that way?

Holloway: That this sport is evolving. You know, you think about my generation. I was the first person to run sub-13 on the collegiate level. And then you think about people like Noah Lyles, Rai Benjamin, Michael Norman, you’ve got the next generation coming up and it not just only makes me smile, but, you know, it makes everybody just feel good about everything going on in the world.

T&FN: It certainly brightens my outlook in a difficult time. You mentioned Noah Lyles. As Virginians, you guys were right there in the same prep era as, I don’t know, rivals, friends. What was your relationship as high schoolers?

Holloway: I would say we were definitely rivals only because we ran the same event at States, but definitely he’s a good friend to me. I mean, I can call him up right now. I can tell them, “Hey, I’m coming to Clermont, let’s have a drink” or something like that and he’ll definitely be there for me. So, you know, it was just one of the things where you figure out friends and some people stick for you for ages and then some people don’t.

T&FN: Noah and Josephus went pro right out of high school. You obviously chose the collegiate option. Can you tell me a little bit about what benefits you feel you gained from having taken that route?

Holloway: I definitely only chose college because it was just something I really wanted to do. I never really once thought I wanted to do something else. I always knew I wanted to go to college. We had different dreams, we had different aspirations, but from there we kind of just chose what we thought was best for us. So it’s to the point, you do what’s best for you. You gotta be able to live selfishly in that aspect, and you gotta be able to figure out, “OK, this is what I want. This is what I want to do.”

T&FN: You turned pro with one collegiate year remaining. Where do you stand academically?

Holloway: Oh, yeah, I’m close. I got another semester just to wrap it all up and then from there I think I’ll be able to walk across the University of Florida stage and be happy.

T&FN: I saw that your girlfriend, Katie Chronister—a Gator softball pitcher, by the way—graduated from Florida last December. Was she a year ahead of you in school?

Holloway: Well, she’s just absolutely just a bomb. She’s just the bomb. She’s just super-smart. One of the things where she’s just very happy with everything going on, you know. We’re the same age, but she’s just—the classes that she’s taken, the way that she’s carrying herself, the way, just everything. And she just flies through and now she’s able to graduate a year early.

T&FN: With your busy schedule did you get to see many of her softball games?

Holloway: Yeah. I’m always able to make a softball game, especially if at home. I haven’t made it to any away ones, but this year they’re able to have them safely and if everything works out well I definitely wanna be able to go to one.

T&FN: So she’s still playing for Florida?

Holloway: Yeah. They gave everybody who was affected by COVID an extra year.

T&FN: That’s cool. I sorta knew that generally though I don’t have a clear picture of exactly what all the various conferences and schools are doing with that extra year.

Holloway: Yeah, exactly. It’s good to ask.

T&FN: You mentioned, I think after Doha, that staying calm and not psyching yourself out—maybe psyching yourself out is not the word, but you said staying calm in order to perform to the best of your ability is a skill you are still working to master. what’s your strategy for doing that?

Holloway: Just being able to see everything as a blessing, you know. Last year I came, I was 21 years old competing in my first World Championships and I put too much pressure on myself when it was my first Diamond League. It was my first—you know what I mean?

T&FN: Absolutely. Your first step on to the pro stage.

Holloway: Just to be able to go through and say, “Look, you’re one of the people that’s in the norm and you’re able to get out in world and see different things.” So really, I kind of just sat back and just realized like, “OK, look, I’m blessed.”

T&FN: Yeah. I would say you are, but you’ve worked hard for it. That’s for sure. Any good stories from that first brief foray out on the elite circuit last year? Or this year even though your time in Europe was short this past summer?

Holloway: Not really. I ain’t got nothing for you, boss. I kinda just, I’m very plain Jane, I follow the rules, I do what I gotta do. And then from there I just go with the flow.

T&FN: Nothing wrong with taking care of business. At home, then, when you’re not training or recovering between sessions what do you do to relax?

Holloway: Right. Yeah. I kinda sit in front of the TV and play the game almost like everybody else. I figure out ways to just get better on the game. And then I like to play with some of the guys and we all just link up, be able to play, have fun.

T&FN: What’s your game right now?

Holloway: Right now we’re playing Call of Duty Cold War. That’s the biggest thing that’s out right now. Everybody’s on it. I mean, we’re all just having a good time figuring out ways to get better. It just came out about two weeks ago so everybody’s still trying to figure out the little norm or the tricks to make you win. Right now I’ve been enjoying it so much and I’m looking forward to continue playing it.

T&FN: Much like hurdling. Any final observations on life or anything I should have asked?

Holloway: You did a great job. I really enjoyed talking. You asked all the questions I pretty much want to talk about, you know?

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