New Kid on the Starting Block

Jan. 14, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa men’s track roster is peppered with All-Americans, Big Ten champions, NCAA qualifiers and school record holders. But prior to this week, the Big Ten Athlete of the Week honor had eluded the bunch.

Enter sophomore Justin Austin.

It took all of one competition for the Kentucky transfer to nab his first Big Ten Conference honor. Austin was named Big Ten Athlete of the Week Jan. 10 after capturing first place finishes in the 60 and 200 meters at the Illinois Open. He opened the season with performances that rank second and eighth on Iowa’s all-time performers list. Austin’s converted time of 21.09 in the 200 meters ranks No. 1 among Division I athletes.

“I did not expect that,” Austin said of the nation’s top performance. “But not everyone competed in the opening weekend, so I’m not satisfied with it.”

A native of Milwaukee, Wis., Austin attended the University of Kentucky in 2010, breaking the Wildcats’ indoor freshman records in the 60 and 200 meters. He moved to Lexington with his girlfriend, but eventually found his way to Iowa City so he could be closer to their infant son, Ethan Austin-Miles.

Austin said his transition from the SEC to the Big Ten has gone well, both personally and competitively.

“The coaches and the athletes have been very welcoming. They share the same competitive spirit and they’ve made my transition very smooth. They push me to be my best and they set lofty goals.”

Those lofty goals include conference and national championships.

“I think he can become one of the best athletes to ever come through the Big Ten if he stays healthy and focused,” said Joey Woody, a former World Championships gold medal winner and current Hawkeye assistant. “He’s a good kid and I think one day he can become a national champion.”

It’s been 13 years since the Iowa men last crowned a national champion — Bashir Yamini won the NCAA long jump in 1998 — yet the Hawkeyes are not far removed from the big picture. Last season, Steven Willey anchored the 1,600-meter relay team to a seventh place finish at the NCAA Championships and earned All-American honors in the 400 meters.

Head coach Larry Wieczorek says adding Austin to that mix could make the difference in a sprint or relay that is decided by fractions of a second.

“I think a strong part of our team just got stronger,” said Wieczorek. “It helps the entire program when you add someone who can compete at a high level. It raises your level of training.”

Following an impressive debut last weekend, Austin and the Hawkeyes return to action Saturday at the Iowa Open. Competition begins at 11 a.m. at the UI Rec Building.

Austin says improving every day and polishing his flaws are the immediate goals, but he and his coaches will reserve judgment until Iowa reaches the Big Ten Indoor Championships (Feb. 26-27) and NCAA Indoor Championships (March 11-12).

“We have high hopes for him in the 60 and 200 (meters),” said Woody. “I think he can be a Big Ten champion and qualify for nationals in both events.”