Sprinter turning heads early in Iowa career

BY BEN SCHUFF | JANUARY 18, 2011 7:10 AM

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When Justin Austin came on a transfer visit to Iowa’s campus last spring and sat down for breakfast with Larry Wieczorek, the head coach said Austin left a lasting first impression of “being a winner.”

The then-Kentucky Wildcat had a number of freshman performances to support such an impression.

He broke two 16-year-old freshman records in the 60-meter dash and the indoor 200-meter dash.

He also ran on the 4x400 meter relay team that placed 11th at the indoor NCAA championships.

And now the sprinter is wasting no time backing up those first impressions on the track in black and gold.

In Iowa’s first meet of the season — and his first as a Hawkeye — on Jan. 8 at Illinois, the junior finished first in the 60-meter (6.76) and 200-meter dash (21.49). Both performances were fast enough to put him on Iowa’s all time top-10 performance list for those events.

Events during Austin’s sophomore year at Kentucky brought him to Iowa.

The Milwaukee native wanted to move closer to home when his first son Ethan was born April 8, 2010. More support was needed to balance Austin’s soon-to-be hectic life of a Division-I athlete and being a father.

When he narrowed his choices down to Iowa and Wisconsin, assistant coach Joey Woody became a huge selling point for the Hawkeyes.

“He is one of the best sprint coaches in the Big Ten, I think in the nation after working with him,” Austin said. “He’s honest, he doesn’t beat around the bush. He’s a good guy, but he can be serious, and I like that about him.”

Wisconsin wasn’t as straight-forward with Austin. He said when he visited Madison, he felt the Badgers played games with him and expected him to join the squad simply because he was from Milwaukee.

“We had some good first conversations about his reasons for wanting to be closer to home, and I think we really hit if off,” Woody said. “The biggest thing was getting him to understand he needed the best of both worlds as far as being close to home but having a little bit of distance to help his future and family down the road.”

While Austin moved to be closer to his family in Milwaukee, he now enjoys being part of another tightly knit group: the Iowa track team.

Coming from the Southeastern Conference — where many teams are built around the sprinters — Austin said he rarely saw any other members of the team at practices.

“When you come here, its like you’re running with a family,” the 21-year-old said. “It puts so much more emphasis on how hard you work and how hard you want to work for your coaches, too.”

The impression making continued when Austin was named the Big Ten Male Athlete of the Week on Jan. 10, the first time a member of the Iowa track team has won the award since 2001.

The award was one of many instances that has humbled the once self-deemed “hot head” since the birth of his son.

“I was excited, not for myself but for the Iowa track and field team,” he said. “We got that in the papers, it’s going to say Iowa’s track and field team, so we got more people coming to see our meets and support track and field.”

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