The Florida Gators men’s track program has had so much success under legendary coach Mike “Mouse” Holloway and been powered by so many champions of the track and field — Jeff Demps, Christian Taylor, Grant Holloway, and so many more — that what surprises about the dynastic program is that it can still deliver surprises.
But in Joseph Fahnbulleh, the Gators have one of their greatest sprinters ever — and one who now has multiple dizzying doubles to his name.
Fahnbulleh became the first Gator to ever win the 100 and 200 meters — or any two individual running events — at the same NCAA Championships on Friday, and the 20 points he gleaned from topping the podium in both events and eight more from partaking in the Gators’ second-place 4 x 100 relay helped push Florida to its fifth national championship in outdoor track since 2014.
Fahnbulleh was not alone in scoring or taking the top of the podium on Friday. Champion Allison came closest to rivaling his sprinting teammate by placing second in the 400 meters, Dedrick Vanover and Ryan Willie tallied points of their own for fifth place finishes in the 100 and 400, respectively, and Allison and Willie teamed with Jacory Patterson and Jacob Miley for a reprise of their stunning 4 x 400 relay performance from earlier in the season, nearly matching their insane all-time collegiate record of 2:58:53 with a 2:58:88 finish good for first on this day and just the second sub-2:59 time in collegiate history.
The 4 x 400 relay scoring 10 points for Florida wasn’t even necessary for the Gators to take the title, with that final addition boosting the Gators to 54 points for the meet, well clear of runner-up Texas’s haul of 38.
But the dominance of Fahnbulleh will be the core memory of this meet, and his 100-200 double might not have even been his finest feat of the night.
In the 4 x 100, Fahnbulleh anchored for a Florida team looking to score its first points of the Championships. All he did was hawk down nearly the entire field on his stretch, all but nabbing eight points from thin air on that final leg.
In the 100, the lanky Fahnbulleh — born on September 11, 2001, in case you were in need of a bit of sobriety or a reminder of your age on this morning — got off to his typical slow start out of the blocks. Then he ran past everyone on the track anyway, churning out a career-best 10.00 time that would put him squarely in the mix for Olympic competition even though the 100 is not considered his best event.
Yet Fahnbulleh had still more brilliance to give in that best event. Despite an ordinary start, Fahnbulleh — who ran for Liberia in the 2020 Olympics, and also carried the nation’s flag — would dust the field in another career-best performance, coming home in 19.83 seconds to repeat as the national champion in the 200 meters ... and best his Olympic performance by more than a tenth of a second.
In all, Fahnbulleh ran 400 meters — 100 with a running start — in three events under two hours on Friday night in Eugene, and they took him under 40 seconds. If his anchor leg was under 9.17 seconds, it’s possible he did all that in under 39 seconds.
Welcome to the Joe Show pic.twitter.com/wWsc61bPjl— Gators Track and Field & Cross Country (@GatorsTF) June 11, 2022
So, yeah, Fahnbulleh is probably going to win the Bowerman Award that goes to the best collegiate track athlete of the year, following in 2019 winner Grant Holloway’s footsteps.
But Florida will seemingly always have another potential Bowerman winner in any given year thanks to its other superb Holloway — Mouse, the coach. This national championship is his 11th as Florida’s head coach, 10th by a men’s squad, sixth since just 2016, and second this year, following the Gators women breaking through for an indoor title earlier this spring.
And with Florida’s women sitting just four points behind Arizona State and with a slew of prospective point-scorers left to compete in Saturday’s final — led by Anna Hall, who is set to smash her own collegiate heptathlon score, and is a Bowerman candidate in her own right, and Jasmine Moore, who is already the national champion in the long jump, could add another title in the triple jump, and is a Bowerman candidate in her own right — the Gators could well win three of the four Division I team national championships awarded in track this year. In doing so, they would also claim the first women’s outdoor title in program history, and sweep the outdoor titles for the first time since Oregon did so in 2015.
(Side note: Last I checked, Eugene is home to both the NCAA Outdoors and the University of Oregon. Weird!)
Even without that elusive title for Florida’s women, this 2022 campaign would go down as a resounding success of a season for Holloway and his programs. It’s one that could be debated as the best for the coach who is only adding to a staggering list of achievements that marks him as either the greatest coach in Florida Gators history, full stop, or the greatest outside of collegiate athletics’ most glamorous sports, depending on your perspective.
If the women win it all this Saturday, though, this is clearly the greatest coaching performance over a single year in Florida’s history — and I think any debate to be had about where Holloway ranks among Gators coaches must start with who comes in second.