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Gators track coach Mike Holloway is Team USA's head coach at the World Championships in Moscow.

Sunday August 11, 2013From Russia with Love: Holloway a World Away from Humble Start

Gators track coach Mike Holloway is Team USA's head coach at the World Championships in Moscow.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Mike Holloway was at his hotel in Moscow late Friday anticipating the start of another one of those experiences that sometimes leave the 54-year-old Gators track-and-field head coach in awe.

Earlier in the day Holloway spent time checking out historic Luzhniki Stadium, site of the 1980 Olympics that the U.S. boycotted in protest of the Soviet war on Afghanistan. The tattered old stadium built at the height of the Cold War is where Holloway will be most of the week as head coach of the U.S. men's team competing in the IAAF World Championships.

Holloway has spent much of the past month in Austria and Russia preparing Team USA for the year's biggest international track event.

"It's just awesome to be around the world's greatest athletes,'' Holloway said. "You never leave a meet like this without seeing something phenomenal happen. I look forward to that."

When the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics 33 years ago, Holloway was an Ohio kid trying to find his way in life. He eventually landed in Gainesville at Santa Fe College and later UF.

For several years Holloway was a roaming high school coach and in 1995 started a stint as a Gators men's assistant while head coach at Buchholz High. He gained respect for his work and eventually earned his UF degree in 2000.

In 2002 Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley tabbed Holloway to take over the UF men's team. Five years later Holloway added UF women's head coach to his title.

Under Holloway's direction, the program has experienced unprecedented success. The Gators men have won five national championships (three indoor, two outdoor) in the past four years, including the 2013 NCAA Outdoor title in June.

You could say life is good for Holloway. He is a world away in the truest sense from his first coaching job as an assistant at Gainesville High in 1983.

"I never forget those days,'' he said. "Those days are why I get up and work hard every morning. I know the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears that pushed me to get from there to here. I feel like when I forget that, I may be headed back that way."

When he first started out, Holloway never imagined some of the experiences the past few years have delivered. He grew up as a track athlete and wanted to coach. He persevered for many years until he was able to make a decent living doing something he loves.

Three decades later and Holloway is considered one of the sport's premiere coaches.

He served as sprints and hurdles coach for the U.S. Team at last summer's London Olympics. In February, while at home one evening watching TV in his office, the phone rang.

It was an official with U.S. Track and Field telling Holloway that we was nominated to be head coach of the U.S. men's team at this year's World Championships.

Holloway hung up the phone and walked downstairs to ask his wife, Angela, what she thought.

"That's kind of cool,'' she said. "You've got to do it."

Fast forward six months and Holloway is in Russia, where in February the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi.

By then Holloway will be busy coaching the Gators during their indoor season. But right now he trying to absorb his latest adventure and help the U.S. come away with plenty of gold medals in Moscow.

"It's amazing to be around this kind of talent,'' Holloway said. "To be honest, it's never been my goal to be the head coach of the World Championship team or the Olympic team. I've always wanted to be a coach of World Champions and Olympians.

"That's always been my goal, to have people here competing. I think my goal of doing that has led me to this position. It's a wonderful thing to be chosen by your peers to lead the best track and field team on the planet."

Mission accomplished.

Holloway is in Moscow with more than a dozen athletes he coached at UF, including sprinters Tony McQuay, Kerron Clement, Jeff Demps and triple jumpers Christian Taylor, Will Claye and Omar Craddock. Current Gators jumps coach Nic Peterson is also there.

While Holloway's career has taken him around the globe in recent years, he said this is his first time in Russia, the center of more Olympic controversy in recent days due to the country's anti-gay laws.

With the Winter Olympics in Sochi approaching, even President Obama joined the discussion on Friday, telling reporters at the White House that he is against the idea of the U.S. boycotting the Sochi Games.

Holloway said he has not encountered any problems in Moscow and doesn't anticipate any in the wake of recent events.

Instead, he wants the U.S. to build on its momentum from the London Games last summer.

His message to the U.S. team was simple, similar to what he might tell the Gators at the NCAA Championships.

"If you are great enough to make this team, you are good enough to beat anybody in the world,'' he said. "I just encouraged them to do the things you did to get here. Be who you are, do what you do best, and you'll be fine."

That philosophy has worked for Holloway. He is an accomplished track coach and now invited to the sport's biggest events. He set out 30 years ago determined to work hard and see where it took him.

Moscow is a long way from Gainesville.

"It's an unbelievable honor,'' he said. "Whenever you can go to a competition and see what other great athletes do, what great coaches do, it's just neat for me to watch. Hopefully they speak the language you speak and you go ask them about it."

They should ask him some questions, too.


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