Sprinter Austin Hollimon ’13 has won nine Ivy League championship races and set Princeton records in four events, but when he was applying to colleges, he regarded himself primarily as a standout musician.
The classical trombonist was admitted to several music schools, but chose to attend Princeton after being rejected by the Juilliard School. “I said to myself, ‘If I can be in the world’s best music school, I’ll do music, and that’ll be it. If not, then I will pursue track, and I’ll let music come to me later in life,’” he recalled.
Hollimon put aside the trombone and began stacking up accomplishments on the track. As a sophomore, he set a school record in the 300-meter dash. The following season, he was a key part of the 1,600-meter relay team that broke the league record and finished 12th at nationals, the first All-America performance for any Princeton relay team.
In 2011, at the urging of his high school coach, Hollimon left school for a semester to train full time for the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials in the 400-meter hurdles — an event he never had raced at Princeton. Hollimon discovered his tall frame was a natural fit for the event. He qualified for the trials and took the lead in his first race, but hit a hurdle on the final turn and fell, allowing the rest of the field to pass him. He recalled “the despair in that moment. ... You know that everything that you spent a year preparing for has evaporated.”
But Hollimon bounced back from that defeat and remains a star on a track team that has dominated the league, winning five of the last seven indoor and outdoor Ivy championships. The Tigers historically have been strong in distance events, but Hollimon and his teammates have significantly boosted their performance in sprints.
In February, Hollimon anchored Princeton’s 1,600-meter relay to come in first in a photo finish at the Ivy League championships. Overall, the Tigers finished second, losing to Cornell by a single point in one of the most exciting championship meets in recent history.
At the indoor NCAA Championships March 8, Hollimon ran the 400-meter leg for Princeton’s distance-medley relay team, which beat 11 other teams for the title. It was the first national title for any Ivy League relay team since 1975.
With his confident demeanor and serious attitude about training, Hollimon has become a mentor to the team’s younger members, said Tom Hopkins ’14, a teammate on the 1,600-meter relay team. When Hollimon delivers pep talks to the other sprinters, “I could see the looks on the freshmen’s and sophomores’ faces — they were hanging on his every word,” Hopkins said.
Hollimon likely will qualify for the outdoor NCAAs in June, earning an opportunity to toe the line with some of the nation’s best hurdlers. After graduation, he plans to work for Teach for America in Washington, D.C. — while training for the 2016 Olympic trials.