Jan. 12, 2012
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, July 28, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2011-12 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- He has a conference championship ring, now University of Iowa sprinter Justin Austin wants a national championship medal.
Austin, the defending Big Ten Conference outdoor track most valuable performer, returns to bolster a Hawkeye program in search of back-to-back league team championships. For the miniscule 5-foot-9 speedster, if his first year at the UI after transferring from Kentucky was "pretty good," imagine what will happen when he's completely healthy.
"It could mean bad news for a lot of other people that were expecting to beat me this year," said Austin, an indoor All-American in the 200-meter dash. "I'm optimistic because I'm healthy; that means I'm getting the right training in, and I'm not taking any days off to recover."
According to Austin, that confidence comes from his sprinting coach, Joey Woody. Woody, entering his fifth season at Iowa, led Austin to four school records and a 200 meter outdoor conference championship.
"Coach Woody walks around with so much swag and so much charisma and everybody know this," Austin said. "He's so confident in what he does when he coaches -- it's hard not to believe him. I feel it rubs off on me, so I walk around with this type of swag and charisma now."
The 2011 season was the first for Austin in Iowa City, a native of Milwaukee, who attended Kentucky for two seasons. He owns Hawkeye records in the indoor 60 dash (6.69 seconds) and 200 (20.80) and the outdoor 100 (10.21) and 200 (20.31). Austin's fifth-place showing in the 200 at the NCAA Indoor National Championships on March 12 in College Station, Texas, elevated him to All-America status.
"Justin is one of those guys you want in the program because of his mentality of being one of the best," Woody said. "He's a guy that believes he can beat anybody and when he steps to the line he feels he is the one that ends up winning the race. When you have that in your program, it makes other people believe they can be just like him and compete at that same level. To have that atmosphere in your program is big."
At the Big Ten Conference outdoor championships May 13-15 at Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track, Austin won the 200 in 20.46, placed third in the 100 in 10.21 and ran the anchor leg on the fourth-place 400 meter relay team (40.97). That performance helped the Hawkeyes to their first conference track & field championship in 44 years.
At the NCAA West Preliminary Round on Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., Austin advanced out of the first round in the 200 by placing eighth with a time of 21.06. He moved on to the NCAA Championship Round by finishing ninth in the quarterfinals in 21.08. Austin also competed in the 100, but did not advance.
He earned honorable mention All-America in the 200 because he competed in Des Moines, but he was disqualified in his heat race for running too many strides on the lane line.
"I'm looking for a big medal (this year)," Austin said. "Not just All-America, but national champion."
The key will be his health...and so far, so good. Austin can hardly contain his exhilaration with being pain-free, and he has been thriving in workouts.
"It's ridiculous the things I've been doing so far this year," Austin said. "My goals are set higher and higher. People think I'm crazy because these goals are so far-fetched, but I see myself hitting them."
Goals like 6.5 seconds in the 60, 20-low in the 200, 9.8 in the 100 and mid-19 seconds in the 200.
"When you have success, you have to come back the next year as hungry as the year before and you have to do more work," Woody said. "Ever since this summer, he has been eager to work hard and advance his training. The key to Justin is getting to the line healthy. If he gets to the line healthy and confident, he's going to be able to compete with anybody in the nation."
A return trip to Eugene for the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in June was critical to Austin's development as an elite sprinter. In the 200 preliminary, he finished ninth in 20.53 -- .01 seconds behind eventual champion Walter Dix of Nike. In the finals, Austin placed fifth in 20.31.
This season Austin is expected to extend his range to 400 meters. That is a distance he ran at Kentucky, but he has yet to debut there at the UI.
"This year I'm getting back to my roots, running some 4x4s and some 400s," Austin said. "It is mainly to make my 200 better, because that's going to be my money-maker this year."
Austin attended Brown Deer (Wis.) High School, where he set a record for the most gold medals for a career in Wisconsin State Championships. As a youngster, Austin played football and basketball...then he stopped growing. Since there isn't much demand at the college level for a 5-foot-9 forward, Austin turned his attention to track.
"My sophomore year (in high school) is when I started to get really fast, and I started to get noticed," Austin said.
Austin had participated in basketball from fifth through 10th grades, but after his junior year, he competed in AAU track meets. A quadriceps injury forced him to compete solely on relays, where his foursome set a national record in the 4x100. Kentucky offered a scholarship, and Austin became a Wildcat.
Injuries flared up again at Kentucky, so Austin decided to move closer to home. He dialed Woody.
"I was in my office and the phone rang," Woody said. "I don't necessarily answer that all the time. I didn't recognize the number, but something told me to pick it up. Justin was on the other line. I talked to him about being closer to home, but not that close to home. He realized my dreams of building a sprints program here, and he's added to our success."
The family atmosphere within the Hawkeye program appeals to Austin, and he sees it as a significant step in the program's success.
"It's not sprinters just helping the short sprinters, but it's sprinters helping the long sprinters, or long distance helping the mid-distance," Austin said. "When we come together, we come together with a common goal to win a Big Ten championship, and we're going to do what it takes to make that happen. That's what sold me on coming to Iowa."
Austin and the Hawkeyes open the 2012 indoor season Saturday, Jan. 14, with the New Year's Classic in the University of Iowa Recreation Building. Field events begin at 1 p.m. (CT).