Exclusive - Grant Holloway on choosing track over football, Olympic gold, and "just being me"

The greatest hurdler in collegiate history became 110m world champion at 21. Now he wants his name up there next to the greats like LeBron, Jordan, Venus and Serena.

By Ken Browne

Grant Holloway isn't letting anything get in his way, not ten hurdles, a global pandemic, or an Olympic postponement.

110m world champion, the fastest hurdler in NCAA history, and now he's working harder than ever to win Olympic gold in Tokyo next summer.

And when we say hard...

"They say if you don't throw up, that it wasn't a hard enough workout. So let's just say (today) I threw up a couple of times." - Grant Holloway

Born in Chesapeake, Virginia, in the United States in 1997, Holloway chose track over football after high school and is now reigning 110m hurdles world champ, NCAA record holder in the 60 and 110m events, and won three straight indoor and outdoor NCAA titles in both those events.

His personal best 12.98s over 110m is just 0.18s off Aries Merritt's world record of 12.80s set in 2012.

Holloway spoke to Olympic Channel's Ash Tulloch @Olympicchannel Instagram live about his journey, that World championships and talked about being "at peace" with Olympic postponement, being real and authentic, and having Michael Jordan and Kanye West around for dinner.

Watch the full interview here.

Staying positive in a pandemic

"2020 was just put on hold," says Holloway, "but when twenty twenty one come, we can all say we all made it out. You know, that's the positive that we know we all got to go through."

When the track star recorded with Olympic Channel for the Tokyo 2020 'Ones to Watch' series, he enjoyed the process.

"You know, is everything from email, talking, doing an interview and having the cameras out there at practice. It's been a wonderful experience and I'm really excited to share my story going into the Olympics."

"And I'm really excited to show you how hard I work day in and day out."

Watch and learn more about Grant here.

So was he happy with portrayal in this 'Athletes to Watch' in Tokyo 2020 episode?

"It was an amazing job. I think it portrayed me exactly how I want to be portrayed."

"I know sometimes athletes like prime example, like The Last Dance. You know, some people say that's not how Scottie Pippen should have been portrayed. But I'm very, very happy with what you know, what I did from the practice to the Bible study to the community service events, everything from that episode.

I think that portrays exactly who I am as a person. And I really I have no complaints. I honestly have no complaint.

Q & A

Here are some of the top moments from Holloway's Instagram live interview with Olympic Channel:

Why Holloway chose track and field over (American) football

Holloway was an exciting young football prospect with Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, with his speed and strength at wide receiver he looked like he could make it all the way to the NFL.

Olympic Channel (OC): In your episode of Athletes to Watch, you talk about the things that have fueled you, but you reveal that you struggled to be a team player. That's a very honest statement to make.

Grant Holloway (GH): In the episode I said I'm not the best team player, and that's why I discontinued football, and it's true. I'm very selfish. Very. I want it to be all about me, because at the end of the day in track and field, if you don't show up to do what you have to do, then it's on you.

"I'm not the best team player, and that's why I discontinued football" - Grant Holloway

You can't really point fingers and say, well, my coach didn't do this, or the strength coach didn't do this or I don't have the right training. You know, it's a whole bunch of fingers pointing.

In football you can say, well, my center didn't get the ball to the quarterback. The quarterback didn't throw the right pass and the receiver didn't catch the ball. Football is really team oriented. And track and field is really, if you put in the work, you'll get it back out.

No to college football

OC: So you could have got a scholarship and you could have played at a university, but you turned that down and you decided to pursue this dream of track. Why?

GH: I would say I really decided to come to the University of Florida and pursue track and field because like I said, one, I wasn't the best team player coming out of high school. I just knew, I had to be real with myself and my passion for track and field was off the charts.

So the saying is, if you want to be great, you have to join a great team, you gotta have a great coach, you gotta have great support staff. So that's what University of Florida had for me. From the coaching staff to the people around it and not even just in track and field in general. You think about swimming, you think about volleyball, you think about football, basketball. You know that that university itself is a household prestigious name. All sports here at the University of Florida. Softball, baseball, golf, tennis, volleyball.

Every team almost has a national title. Every team has all Americans. One of my training partners that I train with, is Caeleb Dressel, Olympic USA swimmer.

GH: I'm just surrounded by greatness, me and Caeleb talk all the time about, like, the differences between track and football. You know, there's just so much. And his ideas helped me be better on the track and my ideas helped him be better in the pool. And I think he would say the same thing when we get together. It's just greatness.

If you're not great, then this university isn't for you. When you come to the University of Florida, you know that when you leave, you're going to leave with not just a degree, but you're gonna leave here just as a better person.

"I'm happy with the man I've started to become"

OC: So, you made this transition from American football to track and field. Must've been quite a transition. You talk a little bit about it in the episode about diet, about weight and that sort of stuff. Did the Olympics and the fact that you can win a gold medal in track and field and you can't and as a footballer, did that play any part in your decision?

GH: I would definitely say it did, but not as much as I just wanted to run track and field. After my last game as a high school footballer, I really just said, you know, I'm glad that I'm here, you know, at the university for what I'm able to do in track and field and I'm able to become an Olympian.

2020 was the goal, but, you know, 2021 going forward. But I'm just very happy with the way that I panned out as an individual.

I'm just way more happier of the man that I'm starting to become. Coach Holloway has really stayed true to his word, you know. Really the biggest thing when I was getting recruited by him, he said, 'I want to make you one of the best hurdlers, but also want to make you a better man'. And to this day, I'm still learning from him day in and day out.

Being coached by your cousin

OC: Mike is also your cousin. What's it like being coached by family? 

GH: It's tough. It's tough at the end of the day. But it's tough love. You know, we both want to we both want to be great. He wants me to be great on the track and off the track. I want to be great on and off the track. You know, he could say things that he can't say to other individuals. And I'm able to take it with a grain of salt.

And I'm able just to keep moving forward and just really speak my mind. I think when I first got to University of Florida, I held back a little bit on how I want to talk. But just as the years went on and we got closer, we built that bond. I got that trust from then on and off the track. I think that's when I was really able to say what's on my mind, what's going on outside the track.

And it's the relationship that we have built has really, really helped us so much. Not just coaching, but really just as individuals, because I'm able to really just say, hey, coach, I got a lot going on at home. Can we move this practice or can we you know, can you listen to me vent for a second as I'm able to really just, you know, take it to a different realm.

Grant Holloway: World Champion

OC: So let's talk a little bit more about journey to the 2019 Doha Athletics World champs and winning. Is it a moment that you think about very often now, or do you leave the past in the past?

GH: It was 2019, you know, we're already in the year of 2020. And you get so much praise and accolades for stuff that you do in the past that, you know, sometimes it kind of blurs your future. So the main thing is, as I go forward yes, I won the World champs in 2019. But that doesn't define who I am in 2020, 21, two, three, four. You know, as the years go on, really, iit's in the past, like I watch film on it and I'll use it to analyse stuff that I'm doing now on the track.

But really, I haven't really done too much thinking in the past. You know, I don't really hold that above my head. The medal is in this box. But, I mean, like I said, the past is the past. I'm getting ready for the next day and I'm getting ready for the next track meet and then I'll be ready when the time comes in 2021 to compete for Olympic gold.

Olympic gold

OC: Olympic gold. What would it mean to you? What would it mean to the Hollaway team? You know, you're there and the USA anthem is playing and you're standing on top of that podium...

GH: I think it'll be the same thing that I felt in twenty nineteen. All the hard work that I'm doing now, it paid off, you know. And to enjoy the win. I think as a team, not just for me, but the dream team around me, I think everybody can really evaluate and say that it really worked out.

All the hard work, all the early mornings, all the extra treatments and Pilates sessions and going for extra treatments and, you know, just really figuring out what's going on with my body. I think that will be the thing that everybody can really sit back at the end of the year and say, we really did it.

A fat-ass glass of wine

OC: So let's say you get the gold, the gold medal. What would you what would you eat to celebrate? 

GH: Really? It's funny because I don't really have like a special celebratory meal. The running joke that everybody remembers about me at 2019 was they say you just want the gold medal, you finished with your season, what are you doing tonight?

And I said I was gonna go get a fat-ass glass of wine.

So I think that's what I would do. I would just go get a glass of wine, celebrate with the people around me when I get back home, celebrate with close family, friends, and really just, you know, really just solidify and say that, you know, we finally did it.

Signature move like Bolt?

OC: Usain Bolt always came out onto the track and he brought this sort of extra added persona, this character that was a part of his pre-race preparation. How do you feel about showmanship? Do you buy into it?

GH: Yeah, I'll buy into it to an extent. I think everybody knows me. I'm always happy, always smiling, always finding a positive. But I really never, you know, had that signature move like Usain Bolt did. At the end of the day, you know, if Grant's smiling, then we're we're all winning, as soon as Grant is frowning, negative, and really just trying to figure out what to do, we're all in trouble.

"One mistake and then you're you're probably flat on your face in the middle of the lane"

So really, I just try to keep a positive attitude. I think Usain Bolt brought his personality like literally into the track and into his racing and warm ups and everything. I really want to be able to really focus on the event because the hurdles is a very technical event, one mistake and then you're probably flat on your face in the middle of the lane.

So really, I've just got to be able to have that focus. But I think of the future, how I will want to have my own signature move like everybody like you say Bolt did, and everybody will be able to do it. But I think right now, I think I just still need to, you know, keep smiling, really just keep being positive and just being me. I think I think that the rest will come.

Faster

OC: So in order for you to go faster, in order for you to improve what what is it that you believe you need to do?

GH: Really is just figuring out, you know, my running style. You know, everybody is different from Aries Merrit to David Oliver, Terence Tramell, Liu Xiang, Allen Johnson. Everybody has their own running style. So I just think I just need to figure out what works best for me, be able to run quick, just stay relaxed about the whole race and really just continue just to stay true to me and not really try to change up and focus too much on the people before me.

Grant or Holloway?

OC: The LeBrons, the Serenas, the Messis, is that something you would like? Would you like people to know you as just Grant, or Holloway?

GH: Absolutely. But I think that comes with the territory of, you know, doing what you gotta do and your event. So I continue just to be me. I feel like everybody will start saying, you know, Holloway or this is Grant, figuring out that signature name.

But I mean, at the end of the day, you don't get that without executing your race plan. You think about Kobe Bryant, you think about Michael Jordan, Venus, Serena, LeBron. They always execute at a very, very high level, whenever the game's, you know, in the balance, they always show up.

They always have ice in their veins and they're always able to just execute and become clutch players. You know, that's what I want to be able to do, and it just comes off just, you know, winning and executing at a very, very high level.

Tokyo postponement - "I'm very at peace"

OC: When Tokyo got pushed back a year, things obviously changed. How did you adjust to that. Are you at peace with it now?

GH: Yeah, I'm very at peace. I think at the time it was just, you know, it is what it is. You know, as a pandemic going around the world right now, it's not just me being affected. It's not just you. But, you know, you think about everybody around. All planet Earth is feeling it.

So really, it's just, let's continue just to stay healthy. Let's get this virus under control. And then when Tokyo in 21 comes, we can really just say, look, we made it out, guys. Let's continue just to go for it and just really just be happy.

OC: Are there any Olympians that you'd be excited to meet if you bumped into them in the athletes village?

GH: I feel like I'll be excited to see everybody, because, you know, we all accomplished a goal in 2021 that no one else can say they did. Not too many people could say the Olympics got pushed back and I was able to keep my focus and really make it to Tokyo. So, you know, I think I'll be happy to see everybody, because I'll be a first-time Olympian.

But then at the same time, I'm able to see so many people from all different sports. You think fencing, archery, basketball, beach volleyball, you know, softball, you know, you can name all the sports and you can really say, look, we made it, like we really made it out this pandemic together.

Olympic Dream

OC: Was it always your dream to make it to make the Olympic team?

GH: I would absolutely say yes. It's always been my dream. I remember watching the 2008 Olympics when David Oliver got bronze.

And then later down the line, Aries Merritt really just took over the hurdle world, he won 2012 indoors at Istanbul, then in London wins Olympic gold. And then I think like a month or two months later, he breaks the world record. You know, 2012 was just a remarkable year for Aries Merritt.

Going down the line, then watching, you know, a good friend of mine, Devin Allen, you know, he he took over U.S. hurdling in 2016 and placed fifth at the Olympics. You know, just small things like that you like. Wow, I really want to be part of that. You know, that process went, you know, winning the Olympic trials and really just going for it.

Grant Holloway's free time

OC: What do you do in your free time?

GH: Free time? I do a lot of videogaming. After training when I can... I play games, I stream. And really, that's been my life for, you know, a good chunk of, you know, this pandemic. And, I was in school working on my degree. I'm planning on to go back to school this fall.

I'm studying African-American studies here at the University of Florida. I took a little break with Doha and I was going to take a break with the Olympics this year. I won't be able to run forever. So this will really be, you know, something just to keep growing.

Dinner with MJ and Kanye

OC: You're having a dinner party. You get to invite anyone alive to come to your dinner party. Who are the three people you would likely have to grant Holloway's special dinner party?

GH: Definitely Michael Jordan. Just because of everything he's done. Kanye West just because he's crazy and he's an Adidas person just like me. So I just want to see what goes through his mind. And for the last person, really just I would honestly invite Coach Holloway, you know, my coach really just to sit down and really just pick his mind and really just say, like, you know, what goes through your mind as a coach.

OC: Well, he will also probably get some interesting tips from Michael Jordan as well.

GH: Absolutely. Probably not from Kanye!