Grant Holloway (C) competes in the Men's 60m Hurdles at the the World Athletics Indoor Tour Madrid 2021 on Feb. 24, 2021 in Madrid.
Grant Holloway asks some of the greatest hurdlers in history to tell him their secrets to success.
And they do.
“In the documentary ‘The Last Dance,’ we all remember that episode with Kobe Bryant when he just walks up to Michael Jordan and asks him the question like, ‘How do I get better?’” Holloway said.
The reigning world champion is not shy about arranging calls and meetings with athletes he admires. With a personal best of 12.98 seconds, Holloway is tied for 18th all-time, ninth among Americans.
He sees each hurdler ahead of him on the all-time list as a barrier he needs to clear to reach the ultimate prizes – the world record and the Olympic gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Late last summer, Holloway was on a Zoom call with Colin Jackson, a two-time world champion and 1988 Olympic silver medalist.
“I asked him the tough questions,” Holloway said. “How do I get faster? How do I make sure that I can maintain that speed in between the hurdles?”
Jackson graciously shared his insights and Holloway took them to heart. On Feb. 24 in Madrid, Holloway broke Jackson’s 27-year-old world record in the 60-meter hurdles by .01 with a time of 7.29 seconds.
“When Colin Jackson ran the record, I wasn’t even a thought in my parents’ dictionary,” Holloway said. “For me to run it at the age of 23, I think that kind of shows the growth that I’ve had.”
And it was also a boost for Team USA, which shockingly did not medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the Olympic Games in Rio four years ago. Except for the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games, the United States has won at least one medal at every other Olympic Games going back to 1896, often winning two medals and five times sweeping the podium.
“I think we’re finally getting back on the map,” said Holloway, who opened his outdoor season Saturday by winning the Miramar Invitational with a wind-aided time of 13.04 seconds. (The fastest legal time this year is Jamaican Damion Thomas’ 13.22.)
The Gold Standard
The last American to win the 110-meter hurdles at the Olympic Games was Aries Merritt, who took the gold in London in 2012 and then set the current world record of 12.80 seconds in a meet later that season.
“I want what Aries has,” Holloway declared. “I want Olympic gold. I want the world record, the American record. Aries is the man to beat.”
And yet Merritt, 35, who is still competing, has also been willing to help Holloway hone his craft.
“I have Aries on, I don’t want to say speed dial, but I definitely have his contact,” said Holloway.
He said Merritt loves watching film and breaking down races and will “give me the honest answer.”
The Chesapeake, Virginia, native also considers 2013 world champion David Oliver and 1996 Olympic gold medalist Allen Johnson among his mentors.
“When I talk to them, I figure out ways to make weaknesses my strengths, and I already know how to keep my strengths my strengths,” Holloway said.
His strength is his start while his weakness is the latter half of the race, a difficulty Merritt encountered in college and was able to overcome.
Holloway knows that whoever breaks Merritt’s world record will have to be the first hurdler to run in the 12.7s.
“Why not me? That’s the question,” he said. “The record’s been there for so long it’s like, ‘OK, it’s time for it to go down.’”
Well, it’s only been around nine years, and the indoor record lasted three times as long. In the preliminaries in Madrid, Holloway equaled his American record of 7.32 seconds.
The final was his last chance of the season to get the world mark. However, he felt physically ill when he got in the blocks.
“My arms felt weak, hamstrings were tight, calves locked up,” Holloway said.
And yet his heart was beating like it had at the 2019 world championships, when he was competing against “all the people that I used to watch on YouTube.”
“I felt so weak - you’re like, dang, this is not the time for this to happen,” Holloway said. “So I go out and the gun goes off and I just shoot out like a rocket and .29 pops up. Those are the moments you look for.”