Despite the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 being just the fourth competition for Grant Holloway since joining the professional ranks, the American’s success in a dramatic and incident-packed men’s 110m hurdles final did not happen by sheer fluke.
A University of Florida student up until June – when he became the first athlete to win three successive NCAA indoor and outdoor sprint hurdles titles – the engaging, articulate and highly-motivated Holloway had set up a meticulous and clear-eyed plan to target and succeed in Qatar.
“It has always been the goal (to win gold in Doha),” explains Holloway. “When I started this season in a University of Florida uniform, I think in the back of coach (Mike) Holloway’s (no relation) mind and my mind we would make it through to October (and the World Championships). The blood, sweat and tears, it has been a long grind. We had a goal with NCAA indoors and then transitioning to outdoors. Then after the (college) outdoor season ended we talked about what we should do.”
Holloway, who originally hails from Chesapeake, Virginia, has always been a highly-driven individual. A self-confessed student of the sport he recalls poring over hours of videos of hurdles greats such as four-time former world champion Allen Johnson, former US record holder David Oliver and two-time world indoor 60m hurdles champion Terrence Trammell.
“I have also watched plenty of YouTube videos of these people to my left and right (he said of the World Championships silver and bronze medallists Sergey Shubenkov and Pascal Martinot-Lagarde),” he adds. “Studying the game is how I can be better and get on the podium.”
His proud mum, Latasha, herself a former college hurdler, who attended the post-race press conference, recalls: “As a sophomore at high school he was concerned about his diet. He knew he shouldn’t drink soda because of the sugar, he said ‘that’s what athletes did’. It is very rewarding to see the fruits of his labour.”
Recruited by the University of Florida to not only compete in track and field but also as a gifted wide receiver and defensive back he never stepped on to the American football field. Once again demonstrating a great clarity and maturity he opted instead to focus on athletics.
Athletics over American football, an easy choice
“Coming into college it was one of the decisions I needed to make (do I play American Football or track),” he explains. “I talked to my parents and they asked me, ‘do you want to be an NFL player or an Olympian?’ In my heart, I wanted to be an Olympian.
“I wanted to do both when I got to the college level but my coach (Mike Holloway) said if you want to be the best person on the track that you can, stick with me and I promise that by the next Olympics I will have you ready. Me and coach Holloway make an awesome team.
“American football is also very unforgiving on the body. The question I always say is do I want to walk when I am 30 and be in wheelchair by the age of 35? I’ll take my chances going over some hurdles.”
Holloway – a former coach to world and Olympic 400m hurdles champion Kerron Clement, 2003 world 200m champion John Capel and world and Olympic sprint medallists Bernard Williams and Tony McQuay – has enabled Holloway the athlete to flourish.
Smashing former world record-holder Renaldo Nehemiah’s 40-year-old collegiate record when recording a blistering and world leading mark of 12.98 in June to secure a hat-trick of NCAA 110m hurdles titles in Austin - his 110m hurdle talent is undisputed.
However, such are his rich all-round athletic gifts, Holloway is also a 8.17m long jumper and a 6.50 60m sprinter (recorded when winning the NCAA indoor title in March). He also helped the University of Florida to NCAA silver in the 4x400m relay courtesy of a scintillating 43.75 split.
From a rocky pro debut..
But since turning pro, where he has continues to be coached by Holloway in Gainesville, Florida, not everything has gone swimmingly for the American hurdler. At the US Championships in Des Moines he had to concede defeat to Daniel Roberts – whom he had beaten to the NCAA title.
Then on his IAAF Diamond League debut in Paris, after making a blistering start he floundered over the final few hurdles and faded to sixth as Roberts once more took the victory.
“At times things got rough but I couldn’t have done it (win the world title) without my inner circle who stayed with me,” he recalls. “I’ll give a big shout out to both parents (Stan and Latasha), my coach, and my awesome girlfriend, who all kept me calm. I ran crappy at the US Champs, I ran crappy in Paris but they kept me calm.”
.. to world gold in 49th competition of the year
And despite opening this competitive year back in January and the men’s 110m hurdles final being Holloway 49th competition (including heats) this year --he has competed over 60m, 200m, 60m hurdles, 110m hurdles, long jump, 4x100m relay and 4x400m relay-- he was able to perform when it counted.
With Roberts suffering a disqualification in the heats for clobbering a hurdle in an adjacent lane, Holloway kept his head when others crumbled in an incident-packed final in Doha. Benefiting from a turbo-charged start, the dynamic American held a clear lead throughout with 2017 champion Omar McLeod clipping several hurdles before tumbling to grief after hurdle ten, badly impeding the challenge the Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega.
Yet Holloway was unaware of the misfortunes behind as he serenely powered home to strike gold in 13.10 – 0.05 clear of Shubenkov, the 2015 World champion and Martinot-Lagarde of France (13.18).
“I had no idea what was going on (in the race),” he explains. “Coming into the final I had laser focus and my goal was to get out and stay out and that is exactly what I did. I watched a replay of the race and there is a lot of stuff going on back there. I just had laser focus over my ten barriers and I executed to the best of my ability.”
Victory in Doha is a rich reward for the sacrifices he has made over many years.
“When I was younger I always missed junior team by one spot but I dreamed of holding the American flag. It just shows when you put your mind to something, hold yourself accountable and never give up on your goals, what you can achieve.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF