Austin West emerging as star decathlete for Iowa
Former Iowa City West standout finished third at Big Ten Championships
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The making of a decathlete starts long before a decathlete is actually identified and developed.
I’ve known that for a long time, but never had chance to see it happen up close, and for an extended period, until Austin West started competing in multiple sports at Iowa City West High School.
West excelled in football, track and field and baseball during high school, using a versatile mix of speed, strength and explosiveness to perform in multiple events.
He also stood about 6-foot-1 and could be physical, as he was in football; fast and flexible, as he was in track and field; and poised and precise, as he was in baseball.
West could’ve competed in any of those three sports in college, but track and field is where he really stood out and had major colleges pursuing him.
He was a state champion hurdler, and a star in the long jump.
Combine that with the skills that made him a force on the football field, and an accomplished pitcher in baseball, and you had the makings of a future decathlete.
“I was just kind of looking at my options going into college and I played football and baseball, as well as track and I didn’t want to go from doing all of that to just like running one event,” West said Thursday morning a in a telephone interview. “And I thought the decathlon would kind of fill that void from the lack of two sports and keep me more entertained. And I had a decent skill set for it.”
West has used that decent skill set to become one of the top decathletes in the Big Ten. He finished third at the Big Ten Championships last weekend with a personal best 7,805 points, which is also second all-time at Iowa.
Iowa senior Will Daniels finished second at the Big Ten Championships with a school record 7,864 points, and together, he and West helped Iowa score 14 points on its way to the team title.
“To have two guys score 7,800 plus points on one team in the same meet is virtually unheard of,” said Joey Woody, Iowa’s director of track and field and cross country.
West and his Iowa teammates are currently in College Station, Texas preparing for the NCAA Championships, and trying to build on a historic run in which Iowa has won three Big Ten titles since 2019.
West recorded career bests in the 110 hurdles, the discus, and the 1,500 meters at the Big Ten Championships. West posted a time of 14.84 seconds in the 110 hurdles, and a mark of 42.37 meters in the javelin throw. West closed out the competition finishing third in the 1500 meters with a career best 4:31.80.
“As far scoring over 7,800 points, I did not think it was going to happen this year,” West said. “But I’m very glad that it did. It gives me more confidence that I can score that and higher moving forward this year.”
West is only a sophomore and has three more years of eligibility after this season.
He has added a foot to his long jump since becoming a Hawkeye and continues to excel as a hurdler and sprinter, while getting better in the other events.
The pole vault is probably his weakest event, according to West, and that makes sense since it isn’t offered in Iowa high school track and field.
But West is also intrigued by the event, and is a on a daily mission to get better.
“I love the pole vault, and it’s probably my weakest event, or one of my weakest events,” West said. “It’s just a fun event to do, and a fun event to improve at.”
West said there are times when he feels like a kid on the playground while competing in the decathlon. He loves the variety that comes with participating in 10 different events, and testing his different skill sets.
“Everybody should really do the decathlon if they have the opportunity,” West said. “Going out and getting to improve in so many different things, you have so much fun doing a whole bunch of different stuff. I never thought I’d learn how to pole vault growing up, but I’ve had a blast doing that. You just feel like a kid again.
“I’m learning all these new different things, and it’s fun to have some events that you’re good at and some events that you’re developing at. There’s always a range of events that you like and dislike, as well as where your expertise levels are, and that always keeps everything interesting as well. You really do feel like a kid back on the playground.”
While West knew late in high school that he wanted to compete in the decathlon in college, some college coaches apparently didn’t believe that was his best option.
Joey Woody did, however, and West is now rewarding his head coach for believing in him, and for giving him an opportunity.
“Some program didn’t want me to do (the decathlon), but Iowa was all for it,” West said. “So it was really just a perfect fit and has been working out pretty well.
“So I’m really blessed with the decision.”
Woody is a former star hurdler and also grew up in Iowa City, so he and West share something in common, although, Woody attended City High and Northern Iowa.
Woody believed in West’s ability as a decathlete, and is now being rewarded for that belief.
“He just keeps working and getting better,” Woody said earlier this week. “To score over 7,800 points at this stage says a lot about his talent and commitment. We’re very excited about his future.”
The decathlon consists of 10 events and is held over two days of competition. The 10 events are the 100 meters, discus, pole vault, javelin, 400 meters, 100-meter hurdles, long jump, shot put, high jump and 1,500 meters.
And while playing football and baseball is no longer part of West’s routine as an athlete, he still benefits from those two sports. The time he spent lifting weights to get stronger for football, and the time he spent throwing a baseball, has helped to make him a decathlete.
West is also a key piece to a rising power in track and field.
“It’s awesome,” West said. “I know that track is an individual sport, but I really pride myself on trying to be a team player. And while it’s not exactly a team sport like a football or baseball team, it’s still really important to score team points.
“And I think the team knows that. We get a ton of support as decathletes. We start first thing in the meet when there’s nobody there, and as our team starts to trickle in as we’re getting events done, they always wish us luck and always cheer us on. And that really helps.
“When everybody has the that same goal, it makes fighting to that finish line just a little bit easier trying to score more team points.”