Austin Mudd isn’t simply running verbal circles when expressing his desire to be a Big Ten champion.
It’s an athletics distinction that so far has eluded the University of Wisconsin junior, and it comes back into play in three weeks.
In Mudd’s home state, no less.
Purdue University will host the Big Ten Men’s/Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships on May 16 to 18, an engraved invitation of sorts for the former Center Grove High School middle-distance specialist.
“I’ve yet to win an individual Big Ten title, so that would be a nice accomplishment,” said Mudd, who finished fourth in the 800-meter run at the past two conference meets in times of 1:48.35 (2012) and 1:51.25 (2013).
“I’ve run the 800s both years at the Big Ten Meets, so I’m guessing that’s what I’ll be running this time.”
Mudd’s reputation as one of college track’s premier 1,500-meter runners is well established after blazing a personal-best 3:40.87 at Stanford University’s Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational as a freshman. Last June he took fourth at the NCAA Championships in 3:50.84 to earn All-American honors.
Unfortunately, Mudd’s 2014 indoor track season proved somewhat abbreviated due to Achilles tendinitis in his right foot.
He still managed highlights, namely placing second in the 800 at the Big Ten Indoor Meet in 1:49.56 and seventh at the Tyson Invitational hosted by the University of Arkansas in 1:50.67.
“My foot started to hurt around Thanksgiving break, and I basically took a month off. I wasn’t working out or anything,” Mudd said. “It started to feel better over Christmas break, but I was just running myself back into shape at that point.”
Earlier this month, Mudd made his 2014 outdoor debut by placing 15th in the 800 at the Florida Relays in Jacksonville in 1:50.77.
More recently he posted a 3:41.61 — a time tied for second-fastest in the nation this season — to take second in the 1,500 at the Long Beach Invitational. The following day, Mudd took the runner-up spot in the 800 in 1:49.79.
“Now that I’m healthy again, that 3:41 was pretty encouraging,” Mudd said.
For an athlete who doesn’t turn 21 until May, Mudd’s scroll of collegiate honors is already impressively long: twice All-Big Ten, twice Second Team All-American, twice First Team All-American.
He’s also taken part in the 400-meter dash, the 1,600 relay and the distance medley relay over the course of his outdoor track career. Other indoor events have included the 400- and 600-meter runs along with the mile.
“Expectations on someone as successful as Austin coming into college were high. There is a perception that success in high school means immediate success in college. The reality for a lot of high school stars can be different,” Wisconsin men’s track coach Mick Byrne said.
“Austin has shown us what he’s capable of throughout his time here at Wisconsin, and the nation has seen that several times through his great performances. I’m excited for what I believe Austin can achieve this year.”
Mudd remains focused on helping the sixth-ranked Badgers in their quest to excel at upcoming regional and national venues. However, he can’t help but keep one eye on the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Mudd would be 23 and, hopefully, in his competitive prime.
“I definitely want to give it a shot. I couldn’t even imagine (representing the U.S.). The most important part is just staying healthy. It’s real easy to get lazy with icing and stretching,” Mudd said.
He then added, laughing, “But I just had a hill workout this morning and feel like an 80-year-old man.”
Mudd was far from that 80-year-old on the June afternoon in 2011 when he and classmates Nick Stoner (Indiana University) and Kyle Schwartz (University of Indianapolis) and sophomore Conner Stapleton (Notre Dame) led the Trojans to a state team championship.
Mudd’s winning times in both the 800-meter run (1:49.25) and 1,600-meter run (4:03.00) remain state standards by comfortable margins.
“It feels like it was a while ago, but I still think about it quite often. It was so awesome to accomplish that with my teammates,” he said.