IOWA CITY — Justin Austin has a message for the rest of the field before the NCAA Track and Field Championships begin Wednesday.
He hopes it got through to anyone who saw the results of the Big Ten championship meet last month.
“I’m back,” the senior Iowa sprinter said after a workout last week. “People know I’ve been down and out for a little while. There were a lot of distractions because of that. Now people know I’m focused, and I’m back on my game.”
Austin dominated the conference championships in Columbus, Ohio. He won titles in the 100 and 200 and helped Iowa’s 400-meter relay win the championship. He was the Athlete of the Big Ten Championships and the Big Ten Track Athlete of the Year, the second time in three seasons the Milwaukee native won both awards.
But it’s that other year — last year — that bothers Austin. A recurring hamstring injury hampered him all season, preventing him from winning another conference title. Austin missed workouts and weight room sessions all year.
“We’ve talked a lot about how many workouts he missed when he was supposed to be training,” Iowa sprint coach Joey Woody said. “That just kills everything. Staying healthy is about keeping your training going, so you can keep building and not stressing the system.”
Austin had to stop and think about the last time he missed a workout this year. He couldn’t remember one. Woody said that has allowed for “constant progression” in his star’s senior campaign.
“I’m definitely feeling confident,” Austin said. “You can see by my times; they’re very consistent this year. This is the best year I’ve had so far.”
Austin holds Iowa outdoor records in the 100 and 200. He has run on three of the five fastest 400 relay teams in school history, and the second-fastest 800 relay. The one thing he hasn’t done, Woody said, is live up to those expectations at the NCAA outdoor meet.
He hasn’t been fully healthy for the meet the last two seasons, and his best finish is 13th place in the 200 last year. His last chance is this week in Eugene, Ore., where Austin will race in the 100 and 200 and the 400 relay. Woody said the 200 is Austin’s “baby” — his combination of top speed and ability to maintain it making him an ideal fit for the distance.
“I think he’s got as great a chance as anybody to win that 200,” Woody said. “Once you’re in the finals, anything can happen. … We’d love to send him off with a championship.”
Austin speaks emphatically about his desire to go out on top. At the end of a season in which he showed up to every practice and workout, that will be decided in about 20 seconds.
“I want to end my college career as a national champion,” Austin said. “It’s very important. I wouldn’t say my career is incomplete, but I definitely, definitely really want a national championship. I got my conference honors, they’re good, but at the end of the day I want to take one home.”