UF/Team USA track and field coach Holloway thinking big picture with Olympics postponed

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UF track and field coach Mike Holloway, left. [Stephen Nowland/NCAA Photos]

The International Olympic Committee’s decision to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo until 2021 has been felt in all corners of the world, including in Gainesville. 

When the committee’s decision came down, numerous former and current University of Florida athletes and coaches subsequently learned their Olympic dreams would be put temporarily on hold – including those of Gators track and field coach Mike Holloway. 

One of just five coaches in Division I history to win at least eight men’s team NCAA Championships, Holloway was named head coach of the United States Track and Field team for the Olympics in October 2019 – a potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one that would have seen Holloway work throughout the summer almost immediately after presumably another championship bid. 

But all of that’s off the table – for now, at least – as Holloway, too, can do little but wait for the uncertain to become certain. 

“We started hearing rumors at the end of last week and we kind of saw it coming. My reaction was, I just wanted to know. It’s hard with our post-collegiate athletes to talk about training for something that was such an uncertainty,” Holloway, speaking on Sportscene with Steve Russell, said. “The biggest thing for me was just that, now we know it’s been postponed and we can take that off our plate. I’ve got a lot of people calling me, worried about me, but I’m fine. I think my major concern, like everybody else, is that we get this thing under control and that we can get back to our normal lives.”

Just when that will be remains to be seen. 

Fortunately for numerous track and field competitors, training while adhering to social distancing isn’t impractical; it’s rather typical, actually, although there’s no replacing the camaraderie that comes with a team. And there’s no replacing Holloway’s in-person tutelage. 

“You find a grass field — the good thing about track and field is you can go out and run,” Holloway said with a laugh. “That’s not a problem. I think the biggest thing that I’ve been trying to impress upon everybody is: let’s just stay calm, let’s let everybody figure this thing out, this is way above my pay grade. I don’t think anybody knows what’s going to happen with this right now, but the worst thing that we can do is start speculating, because that’s how rumors start.”

Although Holloway did do a minor bit of optimistic speculation himself, saying the possibility exists that some form of championship event may occur in the summer despite the NCAA’s cancellation of spring athletics. 

“With the athletes I work with, it depends on if we’re going to have any open competition later this summer. There are no championships. There is some talk of having an USA championship later this summer, but that’s not concrete either,” he said. “Everything is still so fluid and open right now, it’s hard to tell. The biggest thing we can do right now is maintain some level of fitness. Hopefully we’ll have some facilities open up here in town in the next few weeks and we can get back to some serious training. Right now, it’s just trying to do things just to stay fit.”

While that advice is relevant and applicable to all UF athletes, it’s even more pertinent for those who expected to contend for those limited spots on the national team, of which there are no shortage in Gainesville. 

“The team was going to get chosen actually starting the week after NCAA championships in June. It’s a 10-day meet and the team is chosen then,” Holloway said, before discussing the multiple former and current Florida athletes vying for Olympic glory. “You start right here in Gainesville with Grant Holloway, Kyra Jefferson, TJ Holmes, Eric Futch and that group of guys. You’ve got a guy like Eddie Lovett, who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands. Obviously, he had a good chance. You have other Gator Greats like Christian Taylor, Will Claye and Omar Craddock. Kerron Clement, who is not here anymore. He’s out in California, but obviously it’s hard to bet against Kerron making any team. There are a lot of Gators all over the world that are still training hard and ready to make a big splash in Tokyo whenever they decide to have it.”

While the field of U.S. athletes was still several months away from being fully set in stone, there’s one Gator who can definitively say their hopes of competing in Tokyo in 2020 have been crushed. 

Raymond Ekevwo, a senior sprinter at UF who came to Gainesville by way of Ughelli, Nigeria, was the only current UF athlete who had already qualified for the 2020 Olympics. Ekevwo owns the 100-meter UF program record with a time of 9.96 seconds, a mark he set en route to winning a gold medal in the 2019 African Games in Rabat, Morocco. His hopes of translating that success to an international stage now, too, must wait. 

Which, as Holloway made clear, may be disappointing in the short term, but undoubtedly it’s not the most important matter at hand – making sure the world returns to normal. 

“It’s just wait and see. Again, there are a lot of rumors out there, but until somebody from USA Track & Field calls me and says (when the Olympics will occur), I’ll believe it,” Holloway said. “The biggest thing we need to all do is say a prayer and be thankful for the people in the medical profession, because they are the ones that are going through it right now and they’re the ones that are going to make sure we get through this in the long run. I’m saying a prayer for them every day.”