Daniel Roberts Reflects On A Dream Season

“It was amazing from the very beginning of my indoor season,” Daniel Roberts says of his final campaign at Kentucky. (GLADYS CHAI/ASVOM AGENCY)

THE FOURTH IN A SERIES of event-focus articles on the U.S. men’s 110 hurdles, a loaded discipline for Team USA and decidedly one to watch when competition resumes.

AFTER A BREAKOUT ’19 SEASON which found him turning pro a year early, Daniel Roberts may be the happiest man in track & field. As last year dawned, he was a 13.27 hurdler with a bright future, even if he hadn’t made the ’18 finals at the NCAA (DQed in the semis) or USATF (7th in the semis).

Now he’s a 13.00 hurdler, NCAA runner-up, USATF champion and ranked No. 4 in the world. “It was everything I could have dreamed of,” the 22-year-old says of his wild ride, which carried him to =No. 2 on the all-time collegiate list. “Really, it was amazing from the very beginning of my indoor season at Kentucky. Just running faster and faster and running against Grant [Holloway] just about every week. Just getting to do what I love at the level that I’m at now.

“Going overseas for the first time, traveling to different countries, running in front of these huge crowds. It still feels like a dream and I can’t wait to get back overseas running again.”

Asked what the high point was, he’s flummoxed: “I don’t know, man. I was doing what I love to do: not worrying about anything and not worried about winning, losing, time—just enjoying every moment. I can’t think of a single race that I could say, ‘I love that one more.’”

But when prodded, he offers the NCAA final, where his 13.00 placed 2nd to Holloway’s 12.98 Collegiate Record, saying, “That might be the most bittersweet moment of my life because it was a huge, historical moment, and to be there with one of my best friends, running the way we were running—we knew we were running fast. That wasn’t the question and we knew the record [Renaldo Nehemiah’s 40-year-old CR of 13.00] was going to be broken. It was just a matter of whichever one of us was going to do it on the day.

“It was him and I’m so happy for him that he has that. That moment, as much as it hurt, it also was so satisfying to have my family there knowing that race was so much more than a race. It literally changed my life.”

He mentions Paris also: “My first Diamond League win; obviously I loved that one.”

And believe it or not, he also mentions the World Championships in Doha, where he was disqualified in the heats after knocking a hurdle into another competitor’s lane. The placement of that experience into the highlights column, he says, “came over time thinking about it. Obviously, the day after, it was rough sitting in the USA team room and watching Grant run the final and not being there, you know, that was hard. But really, just that day was hard.

“After that, I was ready for this year. I was just happy for him because no matter how many times you compete, at the end of the day, ‘That’s my brother, that’s my friend.’

“I still see it as a high point because it was my first Worlds team. My dream at the beginning of the year was just to make the team, so the fact that I was in position to be on the podium, to possibly be world champion, was just mind-blowing. My dreams became a reality. People I used to watch on TV and follow on social media, now I’m lining up against them. I thank God for how far he’s brought me and where I am today.”

Roberts also learned a lesson from his Doha experience. “Coming back into it, I picked out things from that race,” he explains. “It was a long season and I know that I could have been more focused at the end of the race instead of getting too relaxed. Clipping those hurdles, that wasn’t necessary and that’s how I got DQed. It helped me with my focus in training and specifically hurdling over and through each hurdle, no matter how far ahead or where you are in the race.”

After a solid winter of training with coach Tim Hall in Kentucky, Roberts ran a couple of indoor meets this year, winning Millrose. He gives his short season a C+. “The times weren’t bad. It was just how I was feeling—I wasn’t feeling good. After that we got back to training and fixed some things and it just started clicking. Out of nowhere I was running fast. I was getting back into feeling like a hurdler, snapping that trail leg, everything.”

The pandemic forced the University of Kentucky to close campus, interrupting the training flow. “Coach Hall let us go back home if we wanted, so I’m down in Georgia now with my family. I’m doing my training here, mostly from the driveway, the living room, stuff like that. Maybe run down the street a little bit.”

He lifts weights in the garage. “It’s not a full weightroom or anything like that at all, but it’s enough to keep me going.”

He adds, “The Olympic year 2020 was in people’s dreams since we were in high school. Coming into this year we had big expectations and aspirations. Obviously, it still sucks, but I feel like there’s something greater at work. Maybe we just needed more time. Maybe I needed a different mindset. I don’t think anyone really knows when all this stuff is going to be back to normal. So it’s just taking it day by day now, enjoying my family, the people I have around me and the days I’ve been blessed with so far.”

Roberts is more than excited about the prospect of five straight years of global championships coming up. “It’ll be amazing. That sounds like beauty to me.

“My goal is always to be the best no matter what I’m doing. Not just the best in this time, but the best ever. And I don’t know how long it’s going to take me. As long as the Lord’s willing, that’s how long I’m going to do it. Hopefully as long as I can and be up there with Justin Gatlin and Aries Merritt as the old head men,” he says with a laugh.