On the morning of their NCAA Championship race, Daniel Roberts got a message from Grant Holloway. The two have spent the last two months revamping the collegiate record book and turning the high hurdles into the most anticipated event of the season.
After Wednesday’s semifinal heat, history seemed imminent. Roberts ran 13.06, the second-fastest collegiate time ever and .01 faster than Holloway’s lifetime best. Renaldo Nehemiah’s 40-year-old record of 13.00 was teetering. Weighty words like legacy were thrown around.
“He texted me this morning, let me know we are cool no matter what happens on the track, we are brothers off the track,” Roberts a junior at Kentucky said.
A few hours later, with the full attention of the 11,000 at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, the friendly rivals combined to make NCAA history.
“You could feel the energy in the stadium,” Florida coach Mike Holloway said. “As soon as the announcer said the 110 hurdles, here’s the field, the whole crowd stood up, before they even announced their names. It was just electric.”
After an even start, Holloway inched ahead of Roberts in the middle of the race. At the SEC Championships, Roberts’ lone win against Holloway, Roberts came back on the final two hurdles. On Wednesday, Holloway held steady down the stretch.
“Daniel usually makes his move around (hurdle) nine or ten but once I got over 10 I knew I had it.” Holloway stopped the clock at 12.98, throwing his arms up in celebration as soon as he crossed the line. There was no lean, or desperate dive.
Roberts was timed at 13.00, tying the collegiate record. At the NCAA Indoor Championships in March, he broke the old collegiate record but was outdone by a monster American record performance from Holloway. It happened again.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” Roberts said.
Because of the competition, and the time, Holloway said this victory meant the most of the six.
“(I) told him, hell of a job. The man tied the collegiate record. Any other year you run 13.0……..” Holloway trailed off, still grasping for words.
So much of what Holloway has done has been easy. His power, speed and versatility led to a perfect record in NCAA Championship hurdle races. When he raced, the outcome never seemed in doubt. The challenge for him was in other events--like the long jump or 60m. In the hurdles, it was mostly Grant vs. the clock. When he decided to return to Florida for his junior season, he listed the collegiate record as one of the main reasons he wasn’t going pro.
But Roberts turned a foregone conclusion into something special this year. A highly-recruited hurdler out of high school, his success was delayed because of a football knee injury that kept him from hurdling his senior year.
“He blew out every L in his knee, ACL, PCL you name it,” Roberts’ former coach Edrick Floreal said.
His ability never went away. He was runner-up to Holloway last year at the SEC Championships and then ran off a series of personal bests indoors. His 7.41 to Holloway’s 7.35 at the NCAA Indoor Championships made the hurdles more than a one-man highlight reel.
“Next year, is going to be his year,” Holloway said after the race indoors.
The challenge came much sooner.
Outdoors, the two filled up the all-time list, but Holloway’s win streak (he’d only lost one NCAA hurdle race his entire career) was holding steady. Then, SECs came, Roberts ran 13.07 to Holloway’s 13.12. Roberts had his victory, Holloway said he “ran like shit” and the rivalry was on.
It carried through to the East prelim meet where Holloway ran 13.10 and Roberts went 13.13 in a separate heat. But in Austin, it hit its apex. Through both seasons Roberts has said he’s happy to be competing at the same time as Holloway--elevated by history, not a victim of it.
“I believe he wouldn’t have got them (the collegiate records) if I wasn’t there pushing him,” Roberts said.
“I think they needed each other,” Mike Holloway said.
The hurdle race was on part of Holloway’s three-act farewell to collegiate track and field.
He kicked off the meet on a 4x100m relay that broke the NCAA record, running 37.97. Just over 90 minutes after his hurdle race, and with Florida’s placed secured in second in the overall team standings, he ran anchor on the 4x400m
“He didn’t have to run the relay. He wanted to run it, he wanted to close it out,” Mike Holloway said.
And close he did. Holloway got the baton in fourth but streaked past Houston and Iowa in the homestretch to put Florida in second place. His 43.75 split was the fastest of the race.
With that, Holloway’s college career was over.
“It’s time for him to move on. He’s done enough for Florida track and field. Grant’s gotta take care of Grant now,” Mike Holloway said.
Roberts also said he was going pro after the race. Both now have contracts to sort out and professional schedules to fill up. The likelihood of the two racing together with medals on the line is likely. Perhaps as early as this year’s World Championships.
“All I can tell you is for the next week he is resting. That I can tell you,” Mike Holloway said.
There’s no shortage of young talent in United States track and field at the moment. Holloway and Roberts looked poised to take over the hurdles. Both are just 21-years-old. Friday was the conclusion of college careers, but the start of something, that feels transcendent.
“Renaldo Nehemiah, he’s been someone that for the last 40 years (hurdlers) have been trying to get that time and it just happened to be me and Grant the same year the same meet, the same day,” Roberts said.