Grant Holloway Had To Win Over The Doubters

Seeking a rebuild after a poor DL debut, Holloway went back to hard training for a month. (KEVIN MORRIS)

WINNING HURDLE GOLD in Doha was all about redemption for Grant Holloway, who was slotted only at No. 5 on our formchart coming in. He says he never doubted himself once, but doesn’t blame the track world for doubting him. After his world-leading 12.98 to win the NCAA he had traveled to Hungary for his first race on the pro circuit. He won, but in a modest 13.16. Then came the USATF meet, where he lost to SEC arch-rival Daniel Roberts. Then his Diamond League debut in Paris, where he lost to almost everybody, finishing 6th at 13.25. “I just sucked,” is how he describes his summer slump.

His coach, Florida mentor Mike Holloway (no relation), acknowledges that trying to do it all after a very long collegiate season was a huge challenge. “We took a little criticism,” he says. “You just can’t run a great collegiate season and then show up on the European Circuit and be that 12.9 guy and then produce at the Worlds. We went to [Europe], and then we went back to work.”

They skipped the rest of the DL Circuit and went back to the grind for a month. Throughout the rebuild, Holloway the athlete—as well as Holloway the coach—kept the faith. “When I started this season in a Florida uniform, I think in the back of Coach Holloway’s mind and the back of my mind was, ‘We’re going to make it to October,’” he explains. “Through blood, sweat and tears it’s been a long ride but this is what you work toward. It’s in a Worlds year, you’ve got to go to Doha; everybody has to compete at the end of September, beginning of October. Everybody has to do it.

“So we mapped out a goal. After NCAA Indoor we transitioned to outdoor, and after outdoor, we sat down in his office for about an hour and we just talked about what should we do. The biggest thing that he promised to me and also to my parents, they can attest to this, is that he’s got it under control. And not at one point did I ever get worried, and not at one point do I believe that my parents ever got worried. I don’t believe so. I have a great coach, and at no point did he ever, ever give up on me, even when I was running like crap. He never gave up on me.”

Holloway talks about the role his inner circle played in keeping him focused on the prize: “When times got rough, a lot of people gave me the blind eye. To this day, I’ve been saying it in each interview, ‘I never could have done this without my inner circle.’ When things got rough my inner circle stayed with me. I can give the shout out to both my parents, definitely when times got rough, they stayed right there, kept me calm, still loved me. I have awesome best friends. Outside of track, they love me no matter what.”

He says he “ran crappy at USAs, I ran crappy at Paris, and my inner circle stayed with me. It’s funny because after Paris, I had like 20 text messages from the people who actually care about me and think about me as a human being, not just as a track person.” At the post-race press conference he noted that his message count was at 116 and counting, and asked, “So it’s like, who is really there for me when times are rough?”

When the 21-year-old Holloway lined up for the final he was ready. As he told NBC, “I know it’s been a long season, but that’s no excuse. When you step on that line, you’ve got to race against the 8 other competitors and they don’t care if you’ve had a long season or not. They’re trying to beat you. My only goal was to win each and every round, take it one hurdle, one race at a time and that’s exactly what I did.”

He also notes that he stayed calm throughout, with help from that inner circle. “I came out here stress-free. Every time I got in the blocks… I smiled. Every time I finished a race, I’m smiling. There was no point in the whole 13-second race where I was trying to gut something out or figure something out.”

Says the coach: “I felt he was the fastest in the field. I told him, ‘Look, you’re going to get to hurdle 6 and you’re going to be in the lead. You need to relax and concentrate at that point to finish it off.’” And he did. In a rough and tumble race that saw hurdlers and protests go flying, Holloway manhandled the field, grabbing his lead at the first hurdle and never looking back. No wonder he was so stoked in the mixed zone afterwards. When reporters asked him how he was going to celebrate, he said, “I’m going to go find me a fat-ass glass of wine. And don’t edit that, because that’s a true statement.”

Of the race itself, he says, “Coming into that race I had laser focus. My goal was to get out and stay out and that’s exactly what I did. I watched the replay. There was a lot of stuff going on back there. I was laser-light focused over my 10 barriers and I executed to the best of my ability, composed my nerves and now I’m a world champion for the first time.”

Coach Holloway is already looking ahead: “Next year, we’ve talked about having a little bit of an indoor season, because that’s been a part of his routine for the last 7 years or so. He’s used to that. But then we’ve got to look at his progression. He was a 13.3, then a 13.1, and now a 12.9. Is he going to keep that progression up? If so, that means we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to get ready for the Olympic Trials.”