Grant Holloway: Leaving it all on the track 

Grant Holloway of the United States celebrates winning the Men's 110m hurdles final during the 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Grant Holloway of the United States celebrates winning the Men's 110m hurdles final during the 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

The indoor 60m hurdles world record holder and 110m hurdles world champion is keeping it positive in the build-up to Tokyo 2020. 

There's a simplicity to world champion hurdler Grant Holloway when he explains his mindset with just four months to go until the most important competition of his life.

"Run fast and do what you have to do" may seem like the opposite of an athlete's natural instincts when faced with the bubbling pressure of an Olympic year. But for Holloway there's no other way: "I try to not even stress... you just let me know where and when I need to run."

Athletes use so many tools to help them stay at the top of their game. Some psych themselves up to such an extent that they enter competitions like a tightly-wound screw, just waiting to unfurl. Some do everything and anything they can to mellow the mood, knowing that – for them – the internalisation of pressure will wreak havoc with their ability to perform.

But not many are like Holloway, keeping a positive mindset and taking every challenge in his stride.

"The main thing is executing and being prepared and ready when it matters most."

Rising to the occasion

It's hard to argue that Grant Holloway has not been ready during the most important races of his life.

On 24 February 2021, Holloway broke Great Britain legend Colin Jackson's indoor 60m hurdle world record when he passed the line in 7.29 seconds during an Indoor Tour meeting in Madrid. The previous mark had been intact since 1994.

And all this after a year of unprecedented disruption to the sporting calendar.

"As time got closer, I was like, 'let's just leave it out there on the track,'" Holloway explained, looking back on the moments leading up to his historic world record run that came after equalling his personal best in the first round of the competition.

"My coach said, 'add a little gasoline to the fire and just run through the finish line' and I got 7.29."

There was a moment of confusion that followed the race, as the initial time showed as 7.32 and Holloway initially refused to celebrate the record. But that doubt was soon replaced by pure joy, as the athlete from Virginia realised exactly what he had achieved.

Still, Holloway is careful not to count his chickens before they are hatched.

"They always say, it's a sign, it's bad luck if you try to take something that's not yours," he said. "It's bad luck to put Olympian in your Twitter or Instagram bio if you're not an Olympian yet. It's bad luck to claim the world record when what you see on the screen is 7.32, which is not the world record."

Avoiding the chaos

Of course, Madrid was far from being Grant Holloway's first rodeo.

In the steaming heat of Doha, Qatar, at only 21 years of age, Holloway beat out the reigning Rio 2016 gold medallist Omar McCleod to win the World Championships gold medal.

In the midst of a chaotic race, in which McCleod clattered into Spanish hurdler and eventual bronze medallist Orlando Ortega, Holloway was a vision of calm, crossing the line first in a time of 13.10 seconds.

"When you stress, that adds something else on your plate," Holloway explained, before adding later: "I'm kind of glad I was in an outside lane. I was able to focus on my lane, my space for 10 hurdles and 51 steps."

And whatever it is that keeps him calm, it's working for him. World record holder, world champion – all at the age of 23.

Could the Olympic title – the biggest of them all – be next on his list of triumphs?

"I think the biggest thing now is that you replicate it. You know what the experience is like on that big level. You've been to a couple of Diamond Leagues, you've been to a couple of Indoor Tours. Do what you need to do, get your lane assignment and get out in front and just keep executing all the way down the track."

DOHA, QATAR - OCTOBER 02: Grant Holloway of the United States celebrates after winning gold in the Men's 110 metres hurdles final during day six of 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 at Khalifa International Stadium on October 02, 2019 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
DOHA, QATAR - OCTOBER 02: Grant Holloway of the United States celebrates after winning gold in the Men's 110 metres hurdles final during day six of 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 at Khalifa International Stadium on October 02, 2019 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
2019 Getty Images

Mindset Tokyo

Listening to Grant Holloway it's easy to think that his ability to stay calm under pressure is a natural gift. But, while that may be true to some extent, it isn't the full story.

Like many athletes (swimming legend Michael Phelps being a famous example) Holloway uses visualisation techniques to prepare for races. But unlike Phelps, who imagined the very worst possibilities that could happen during a race, Holloway focuses on the positive, with the Olympics front and centre of all his thoughts.

"Every rep, every warmup, I envision myself in Tokyo going over those 10 hurdles on the track, I envision myself running through the line, I envision myself holding the flag.

"If you put those positive thoughts in your head and you keep replaying it over and over again, the mind has no choice, when the time comes, but to do that again."

And when he does line up in Tokyo, in the most important race of his life, Holloway is more than certain he will rise to the occasion – just like the sporting greats who have come before him.

"Big time players show up in big time games, that's the biggest thing that I think of. When the pressure's on and everyone is watching, what are you gonna do?

"I think the biggest thing is just envisioning and knowing that when the time comes, you're going to prevail."

You can listen to the full interview with Grant Holloway on the Olympic Channel Podcast.