Grant Holloway

Grant Holloway chose Florida track over Georgia football, then became a world champion

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Coming out of Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, Va., Grant Holloway was a talented enough wide receiver to earn an offer from the University of Georgia. One problem: He wanted to be an Olympian.

So Holloway chose the University of Florida, which didn’t want him for football. He went to Gainesville to join a more successful program — track and field. Holloway began competing for the Gators and coach Mike Holloway, whom he came to find out was a distant relative.

As a freshman, Holloway swept the NCAA 60m and 110m hurdles titles. He was fourth at the USATF Outdoor Championships, missing the world championships team by .05 of a second as a 19-year-old.

In 2019, he turned pro after his junior year, having swept the NCAA 60m and 110m hurdles all three seasons. In his last season, he also won the indoor 60m (no hurdles) and was part of a champion 4x100m relay team. From January to October, Holloway ran more than 40 races going into the world championships final in Doha.

Holloway is a hurdler of ritual. He writes “God’s will,” on his hand before every race. In Doha, he smiled before settling into the blocks and said “thank you,” a reminder to be grateful for his situation, going for a medal at age 21 against the globe’s best.

Holloway jumped the field from the start. As he cleared hurdles, after knocking the first one, he felt the man two lanes to his right. It was Omar McLeod, the Olympic and world champion from Jamaica.

“I call him Mr. Silk,” Holloway said, McLeod’s nickname. “He calls me Flamingo.”

McLeod’s hamstring grabbed. He hit a late hurdle and stumbled to last place.

“I could see Omar coming up. He’s coming. He’s coming,” Holloway told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey recently. “But then all of a sudden in a snap of a finger, he was out.”

Holloway endured, winning in 13.10 seconds and by .05 over Russian Sergey Shubenkov. It came one night after his roommate and friend since high school, Noah Lyles, won the 200m. Holloway and Lyles spent hours in a downstairs hospitality room in Doha, playing Super Smash Bros.

Next year, they could run in the same race. Holloway would cherish the chance to join the 4x100m at the Tokyo Olympics. The quartet with Lyles, Christian ColemanJustin Gatlin and Mike Rodgers prevailed in Doha, ending a 12-year drought.

“I would love to do it, but Team USA, it’s a lot of politics behind it,” he said. U.S. track and field carefully crafts relay pools, considering chemistry and the fact it hasn’t won an Olympic gold since the 2000 Sydney Games. “My goal this year was to get a [hurdles] gold medal at Doha. … At that point, if they needed me, they would have called me or they would have told me to come to practice the next day.

“I would love to be on a relay. It’s one of my dreams to hold that flag and take USA out of the drought, but I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to catch too much backlash.”

MORE: Joe Kovacs revisits epic shot put, months after career intervention

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Grant Holloway adds 110m hurdles title to generational worlds for U.S. male sprinters

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U.S. men’s sprinting, cast into the shadows by Usain Bolt the previous decade, is back on the throne.

Grant Holloway, 21, became the third American sprinter age 23 or younger to win a world title this week, taking the 110m hurdles in Doha in 13.10 seconds on Wednesday. He came through after the U.S. failed to earn a 110m hurdles medal at the Olympics for the first time in 2016 and at worlds for the first time in 2017.

Holloway’s championship followed 23-year-old Christian Coleman winning the 100m on Sunday and 22-year-old Noah Lyles taking the 200m on Tuesday. Rai Benjamin, 22, grabbed silver in the 400m hurdles. Fred Kerley, 24, is the new favorite in Friday’s 400m final after Michael Norman, 21 and fastest in the world this year, bowed out in Wednesday’s semifinals with an injury.

All this after the U.S. earned two of 10 available men’s individual sprint gold medals between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and four out of 15 when including the 2008 Beijing Games. Bolt earned six individual golds by himself among those three Games.

But Bolt is retired. The Jamaican pipeline is dry. A new U.S. generation arrived with perfect timing.

TRACK WORLDS: Results | TV Schedule

Take Holloway, who spurned SEC football offers to run track at Florida.

“I sat down with parents and asked if I wanted to be NFL or Olympian and my heart was to be an Olympian,” he said, according to Athletics Weekly. “American football is very unforgiving on the body. Do you want to walk at 30? Or be in a wheelchair at 35?”

He went on to capture NCAA 110m hurdles titles as a freshman, sophomore and junior, breaking Renaldo Nehemiah‘s 40-year-old collegiate record this past season. He then turned pro. While most NCAA athletes fail to extend their form into the world championships, especially hard with worlds so late this season, Holloway managed to peak twice.

Holloway ran the world’s fastest time this year at NCAAs, a 12.98 on June 7. His best time in his three meets between NCAAs and worlds was 13.16. He was runner-up at USATF Outdoors and sixth in his Diamond League debut.

“Everybody counted me out coming into this meet because I’ve been off my game for two months now,” Holloway, the Virginia son of a retired Naval officer and school teacher, told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN. “I just sucked. I just ran like s—.”

But in Doha, Holloway was back in form. Before the final, his coach in Gainesville, Mike Holloway, told him, “See you in 12 seconds.”

It wasn’t quite that fast, but Holloway beat a strong field that included the reigning Olympic and world champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica, who stumbled to last place after hitting a hurdle. Jamaican male sprinters are likely to leave an Olympics or worlds without a gold medal for the first time since 2007.

McLeod, going into the last hurdle, fell into the lane of Orlando Ortega, getting disqualified and likely costing the Spaniard a medal (but not the gold). Instead, Russian Sergey Shubenkov took silver (13.15) and Frenchman Pascal Martinod-Lagarde the bronze (13.18). McLeod was off kilter. He felt a hamstring tweak in warm-up, then it grabbed after the first hurdle.

“[Ortega] was upset,” McLeod said. “I was very upset, too. I didn’t want to cause any commotion or whatever, but I’m very, very sorry.”

In other finals Wednesday, Brit Dina Asher-Smith dominated an otherwise weak 200m final, clocking a national record 21.89 seconds. American Brittany Brown took silver in a personal best 22.22, one year after failing to make the NCAA Championships final. This world final included none of the reigning Olympic or world medalists.

Worlds continue Thursday with the women’s 400m final, featuring massive favorite Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, and the conclusion of the heptathlon and decathlon.

Also Wednesday, Olympic champion and world-record holder Dalilah Muhammad was second-fastest in the 400m hurdles semifinals to fellow American Sydney McLaughlin, the 20-year-old phenom who turned pro after one college season. That final is Friday.

In the decathlon, world-record holder Kevin Mayer of France is in third place after day one, trailing Canadian Damian Warner by 30 points.

Brit Katarina Johnson-Thompson leads Olympic and world champion Nafi Thiam by 96 points after the first day of the heptathlon. Thiam also ranked second after day one in Rio and at the 2017 Worlds, coming back to win each title.

MORE: Usain Bolt’s Instagram story appears to jab at Noah Lyles

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Noah Lyles bests Bolt’s meet record in Paris Diamond League meet

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Noah Lyles set a meet record of 19.65 seconds to win the 200m with ease at Saturday’s Diamond League meet in Paris.

The previous record of 19.73 belonged to Usain Bolt.

Running out of lane 6, Lyles quickly made up the stagger on France’s Christophe Lemaitre and remained several meters ahead of world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, who finished in 20.01.

Lyles’ time was especially impressive because several early races saw relatively slow times despite the elite fields in  the final Diamond League meet before the season-long circuit’s finals, which will be split between two meets Aug. 29 in Zurich and Sept. 6 in Brussels. The meet opened on the new track at Stade Charlety with temperatures in the upper 80s.

“I barely remember any of the race, to be honest,” Lyles said. “I was going around the track and before I knew it I was at the finish line. I was like, ‘Hold up — this happened too fast!'”

READ: Lyles overcomes 2017 heartbreak to reach first world championship

Meanwhile, several meet records fell in the field events, capped by a back-and-forth contest between U.S. triple jump rivals Christian Taylor and Will Claye, who have finished 1-2 in the last two Olympics and the 2017 world championships.

Taylor also won the world title in 2011 and 2015, and his personal best of 18.21m is the second-best of all time. Claye, who also has a long jump bronze medal from 2012 and two more world championship medals, is third on the all-time list at 18.14.

Through three rounds, Claye led by 1cm, 17.39 to 17.38. Taylor took the lead in the fourth, jumping 17.49. Claye responded with a jump of 17.71, just off the meet record.

Taylor broke that record in the fifth round, going 17.82. Claye immediately reclaimed the lead and took the record with a jump of 18.06. Taylor had a strong jump in the sixth round but had taken off just a bit over the line.

“This is the farthest I’ve ever jumped overseas, so it’s a great day,” Claye said.

Omar Craddock made it a U.S. sweep, jumping 17.28. Craddock joins Taylor, Claye and Donald Scott in the U.S. contingent for the Diamond League final.

Though Taylor has taken top honors in the big competitions, Claye has kept it close in the all-time head-to-head matchups between the two former Florida Gators, winning 23 of their 49 meetings.

READ: Taylor, Claye go 1-2 in second straight Olympics

A showdown between U.S. rivals and recent collegians Daniel Roberts and Grant Holloway failed to materialize in the men’s 110m hurdles.

Holloway had broken a 40-year old NCAA record in June, finishing in 12.98 to edge Roberts, who tied the old record in 13.00. Roberts then beat Holloway to win the USATF Championship in July.

Roberts held up his end Saturday, winning in 13.08, but Holloway lost his form late to finish sixth.

“It hasn’t been too hard for me to stay at a high level this long after NCAAs,” Roberts said. “A lot of people tell me after long seasons they feel it a little bit more but my body feels great, everything feels good and I’m just thankful to be here.”

Freddie Crittenden finished third with a personal-best 13.17 to take the last spot in the Diamond League final. Roberts also clinched a berth with his win, his first in Diamond League competition. Holloway was making his Diamond League debut and wouldn’t have made the final even with a win.

READ: Holloway beats Renaldo Nehemiah’s NCAA record in 2019 final

Olympic shot put champion Tomas Walsh of New Zealand beat his own meet record of 22.00m four times, winning with a throw of 22.44 in a contest with eight athletes throwing beyond the 21-meter mark for the first time.

American Joe Kovacs also beat the old meet record, finishing second at 22.11. Kovacs won the 2015 world title and was second to Crouser in the 2016 Olympics, then second to Walsh in the 2017 world championships. 

Ryan Crouser, whose 22.74 heave in April was the best result in the event since Randy Barnes set the world record in 1990, did not compete in Paris. Kovacs, Crouser and Darrell Hill will give the U.S. three of the eight slots in the final.

READ: Crouser passed up NFL shot, now aims at world record

U.S. pole vaulter Sam Kendricks also entered the meet record book, tying the previous mark with a clearance of 6.00m in an event with no Diamond League points.

The meet was the last chance for athletes to claim spots in the Diamond League finals, and some Americans qualified with clutch performances.

Hanna Green won the women’s 800m in 1:58.39 with a late surge to take the last spot in the final. Green’s win gives U.S. three runners in the event alongside Ajee Wilson and Raevyn Rogers, who went out quickly with the pace-setter Saturday and led through the 700-meter mark before fading to sixth.

U.S. high jump champion Jeron Robinson cleared 2.26m to tie for fourth and clinch his spot.

U.S. triple jumper Keturah Orji jumped a personal-best of 14.72m to take third place and secure a spot in the final. Orji’s jump is the second best in U.S. history. Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas, the reigning world champion, won at 15.05.

In the women’s pole vault, world leader Jenn Suhr did not clear the first height she attempted but held on to a spot in the final. Canadian Alysha Newman upset the top two finishers in the last Olympic and world championship competitions Katerina Stefanidi of Greece and U.S. champion Sandi Morris. Suhr, Morris and Katie Nageotte will be in the final.

READ: Jenn Suhr ends retirement in 2018

In the women’s 100m, Olympic champion Elaine Thompson put a slight bit of daylight between herself and a tightly bunched group, finishing in 10.98. Thompson shares the world lead of 10.73 with fellow Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

The next five finishers were separated by 0.04 seconds. Marie-Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast took second in 11.13, followed by the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers, U.S. champion Teahna Daniels and Aleia Hobbs

Hobbs, who did not qualify for the world championships after finishing sixth in the U.S. meet, will be the only American in the Diamond League final. 

READ: Hobbs upsets Thompson to win senior international debut

In the women’s 400m, Kendall Ellis was the only American to qualify for the final, finishing second behind Jamaica’s Stephenie Ann McPherson. Two U.S. runners followed  Shakima Wimbley and Phyllis Francis, who finished 10th in the Diamond League standings.

In the men’s 400m hurdles, world champion Karsten Warholm of Norway ran away from the field to win in 47.26, just shy of his world-leading time of 47.12. Americans TJ Holmes and David Kendziera finished fifth and sixth to secure places in the final along with Rai Benjamin, who didn’t race in Paris but has the second-fastest time in the world this year at 47.16. Ireland’s Thomas Barr finished atop the Diamond League standings despite finishing last in Paris.

In the women’s discus, Valarie Allman took fifth to ensure a U.S. representative in the final.

Neither of the U.S. runners in the men’s 3,000m steeplechase earned enough points to qualify, though Hillary Bor already had enough points to qualify.

John Gregorek hung on to the last spot in the men’s 1,500m despite not competing Saturday.

Canada’s Brandon McBride won the 800m, which didn’t count toward Diamond League standings, with U.S. runner Clayton Murphy fifth.

France’s Kevin Mayer won the triathlon, which combined the shot put, long jump and 110m hurdles. U.S. athlete Devon Williams tied for fourth.

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