Van Vleck's Austin jumps into track and field Hall of Fame
Nov. 21, 2012 at 5:21 a.m.
Charles Austin attributes much of what he has achieved to track and field. But he knows the sport isn't for everyone.
"I'm a big track and field fan," Austin said. "To be good at track and field, you have to have it. It's not like basketball and football. You have to have it."
Austin had the ability and the desire, even if it took him until his senior year of high school at Van Vleck to realize his potential.
Austin still holds the American and Olympic records in the high jump, and he will be inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame next month.
Austin and his wife, Nathalie, will attend the induction ceremonies in Daytona Beach, Fla. on Dec. 1.
"I had a great, great career," said Austin, who will turn 45 on Dec. 19. "I didn't grow up thinking about jumping. It just happened. I was able to develop. I was led in the right direction."
Austin participated in track and field at Van Vleck as a freshman, but quit the team as a sophomore.
He wasn't on the team his junior year before asking to return as a senior.
"When he asked to try out as a senior, I said to go down and high jump 6 feet and you're on the team," said former Van Vleck track and field coach and current Gregory-Portland coach David McKinney shortly after Austin won the Olympic gold medal. "He went and jumped 6 feet and the rest is history."
Austin blossomed at Southwest Texas State (Texas State) under the tutelage of coach Rocky Light and won the NCAA championship in 1990.
Austin went on to win the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo and set the American record by jumping 7-10 1/2 at a meet in Zurich later that year.
"I was traveling the world and seeing places I had only seen in magazines," Austin said. "I never imagined I would go and travel to those places."
Austin's career was temporarily sidetracked by severe tendinitis, which resulted in an eighth-place finish at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
But after surgery, Austin won the 1996 Millrose Games with a jump of 7-7 1/2 and qualified for the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Austin competed against an Olympic field that included world-record holder Javier Sotomayor of Cuba with his mother, Ernestine, among the crowd of 81,000 in the stadium.
Austin won the gold medal with a leap of 7-10, which was three-quarters of an inch higher than Poland's Artur Partyka.
"I won the World Championships in 1991, but that was not the Olympics," Austin said after winning the gold medal. "Having won the Olympic gold medal and winning here in the United States, you couldn't ask for more than that."
Austin competed on the international track and field circuit and won six consecutive USA Outdoor championships from 1995-2000 before retiring from competition in 2004.
"I always looked at track and field as a means to an end," Austin said. "I was trying to get the name recognition that would help me later in life. I hoped it would open doors that wouldn't be open."
Austin resides in San Marcos where he owns So High Sports & Fitness, a training center for athletes of all skill levels.
He still works with high jumpers and his son, Allex, won back-to-back state high jumping titles while attending San Marcos High and currently high jumps for Baylor.
But Austin is dismayed by what appears to be a diminishing number of quality high jumpers.
"There's so many different distractions," he said. "Track and field is a hard sport. You're not glorified unless you're a sprinter or a distance runner. You have to enjoy what you're doing."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.