Gators at Tokyo Olympics: Eddie Lovett prepares for potential showdown with Holloway

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun
US Virgin Islands' Eddie Lovett, center, competes during a men's 60-meter hurdles heat at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Birmingham, Britain, in 2018.

A decade and a half ago, Eddie Lovett wasn’t focused on track.

He concentrated on the pigskin.

Lovett, a product of West Palm Beach, Florida, maintained dreams of gridiron glory as a speedy wide receiver.

But in 10th grade, he broke his arm, and in the uber competitive world of Florida high school football, that put him behind the eight ball.

More:Current and former UF athletes headed to Tokyo Olympics

With the encourage of late Gators’ receiver Aubrey Hill, Lovett pursued track and field.

His speed propelled him to new heights. Twelve years later, instead of experiencing football success, Lovett is in Tokyo, representing the U.S. Virgin Islands and ready for his second Olympic appearance in the 110-meter hurdles.

While the sprinter was born in Miami, his parents hail from the Virgin Islands.

The Virgin Islands brings one of the smallest delegations to Japan, with just four athletes.

The former All-American is the only member of the squad who participated in 2016. He finished 30th overall at 13.77, well off his career-best and ending his Olympic dreams in the heats.

Like many athletes, the Olympic bid gave the former Gator confidence, despite the disappointment.

“I have the talent to make it,” he said. “I just have to stay healthy and focused.”

Lovett dealt with multiple issues though over the past two years, including hip instability.

“COVID allowed me to adapt, and I realized how deep my recovery needs to be when I’m pushing my limits,” he said.

The problems affected his prospects of making the team.

“I planned to compete as much as possible, but I wasn’t able to get it together,” he said. “I went to physical therapy; I went to acupuncture. I had to invest a lot of resources, but thankfully, I seemed to finally figure it out.”

Lovett earned a spot in April when he posted a season-best time of 13.47 at the Miramar Invitational.

UF coach Mike Holloway, who also coaches Lovett, helped him conquered his pains. As the head coach of the U.S. Men’s Track and Field team, he’ll receive an up-close view of Lovett in Tokyo.

“My job as a coach is to make sure Eddie is 100% prepared, even if I am going against him,” Holloway said.

Lovett said his and Holloway’s relationship extends well past track.

If the former NCAA champion makes it past the heats, he’ll likely face another one of Holloway’s protégés — Grant Holloway.

The Florida legend is widely viewed as the run-away favorite in the 110m hurdles. He won the event at the 2019 World Championships and his time at June’s Olympic Trials (12.81) ranked second all-time.

Coach Holloway thinks too much is made over the wrestle between former Gators.

“Everyone wants to turn it into this battle, but being in the Olympics is enough of an achievement,” he said.

Lovett competes against his fellow star often.

“It will be no different than practice,” he said. “I just hope that I am in the race when he wins gold.

“He gives me confidence because I know I’ve been going against the best.”

Both Lovett and Holloway improve each other’s performance.

“We challenge each other in every aspect,” Lovett said. “Grant is the best to ever do it, but the difference between a world-record holder and a regular Olympian isn’t as big as people think. It’s only between 12.90 and 13 flat.”

Although he maintains high expectations, Lovett knows track success takes a long time.

“Patience is the biggest thing for me,” he said. “I used to be motivated by anger, but now I know everything takes time. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

The heats for the 110m hurdles begin 6 a.m. EST with the semifinals that night at 10 p.m. The finals begin Thursday 10:55 p.m. from Japan National Stadium.