EUGENE — Zach Holland was already an accomplished three-sport athlete at Glide High School when, during the spring of his senior year, he decided to give the javelin a try.
Two years later, he found himself at Hayward Field for the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials.
“It’s completely crazy,” Holland said Monday night after placing ninth in the finals. “I was not expecting this.”
Holland appeared destined for a wrestling scholarship after winning his third OSAA Class 2A/1A state championship in 2019. But when he picked up the javelin later that spring, everything changed. He won the Class 2A state title with a throw of 197 feet, 3 inches, 36 feet better than the runner-up and the fourth-longest throw among all Oregon throwers that year.
He received a track scholarship at UCC, but his freshman season was largely wiped out due to the coronavirus pandemic. This past year, though, Holland has competed — primarily unattached but under the Riverhawks flag — at top-level meets throughout the west. In May at the Tucson Elite Throws Classic in Arizona, Holland uncorked a throw of 239-10, placing himself on the radar for a potential shot at the Olympics.
One day before the Trials were set to begin, Holland got the invitation.
“I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I was at the Graduate Hotel where they were getting everyone registered when I found out I was in,” Holland said.
Holland finished third in his flight in Friday’s preliminaries with a throw of 237-8, just shy of his personal best. That throw was good enough to finish sixth in the prelims, qualifying him for Monday’s finals, where the top three throwers — and those meeting the Olympic qualifying standard of 85 meters (279 feet) — would earn a trip to Tokyo.
Holland fell well short, throwing just 221-7 and missing out on the top eight, which would have given him three more chucks of the spear. More important than the final result was the experience and the lessons learned.
“I’ve definitely been smiling a lot the last three days, ever since I got the news,” Holland said. “I’m just happy I was able to have the opportunity. Seeing all the other throwers and competing against them. I feel as though I can be one of those top-level throwers.”
Holland — giving credit to UCC coach Alan King and personal throwing coach Jim Feeney — plans to take a break and let his back heal, then set his sights on the 2024 Trials, where he hopes to punch his ticket to the Paris Games.