Hindman brings championship pedigree, Olympic aspirations to men’s cross-country

Hindman has his sights set on Tokyo 2020 after competing in two straight Junior World Championships.
Courtesy of Mizzou Athletics

It’s 5:20 a.m. and freshman Austin Hindman’s alarm buzzes.

Hindman wakes up for the long day ahead. As a world champion triathlete and member of the Missouri men’s cross-country team, he doesn’t have a minute to waste.

He wakes up for cross-country practice in the morning, endures classes and homework, then finishes up the day with workouts either in the pool or on the bike. Hindman goes through the day with one goal in mind: Tokyo 2020.

After winning the junior ITU World Triathlon in 2016 and finishing 29th in this year’s championship on Sept. 16, Hindman hopes to compete in the 2020 Olympics as a triathlete.

A record-breaking athlete at Lafayette High School, Hindman’s next step toward an Olympic berth was to find a school that would allow him to compete in track and cross-country while also letting him pursue his dream as a triathlete.

That’s where Mizzou came in. A main reason why Hindman chose the Tigers was coach Marc Burns and the Missouri coaching staff’s willingness to let him focus on triathlon during parts of the cross-country and track seasons.

“[Mizzou] is a fantastic school academically,” Hindman said. “I love everything about it. I love the team. I have a good relationship with the team and with the coaches. I got on campus for my official visit and I felt like, ‘This is the school.’ Coaches were supportive of me doing triathlon.”

Burns wants to help Hindman reach his goal of being an Olympic triathlete while at Mizzou.

“We talked about [competing in triathlon during the cross-country season] during the recruiting process,” Burns said. “His mission is to be an Olympian as a triathlete and to win medals. He knows he needs to be one of the top 10K runners in the world in the triathlon to be able to be at the top of the podium at the Olympic games in the future.”

By allowing Hindman’s triathlon aspirations to coexist with his running career, the Tigers were able to welcome one of the most decorated freshman runners in Missouri track history.

Hindman is a seven-time individual state champion and was the 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year for boys cross-country in Missouri as a senior. Hindman said running cross-country and track has been a big help to his triathlon performance.

“The biggest thing for me is cross-country taught me how to finish a race strong, something I struggled with at the beginning of high school,” Hindman said.

Hindman’s ability to finish strong was a major reason why he won the world championships in 2016. Hindman was in 20th place going into the 5K run, the final leg of the triathlon. He managed to pick off everyone in the lead pack and run away with the world championship.

Another example of Hindman’s finishing ability came when he ran at the Arcadia Invitational in Los Angeles as a senior. Hindman finished second of 33 in a field featuring 18 state champions from across the country and was propelled by a 58-second final lap.

Hindman’s high school coach, Sean O’Connor, recalled watching the race in disbelief.

“It was crazy,” O’Connor said. “He hit a whole ‘nother gear and he just started going faster and faster. He was in 10th and then he moved to eighth, sixth, third, and then all of a sudden he finished second. It was incredible.”

While Hindman was running in high school in Saint Louis, O’Connor was impressed at how quickly Hindman improved over his four years and also sees a lot of improvement ahead for Hindman.

“He improved year after year,” O’Connor said. “For him, who knows? He’s so good, nothing surprises you. I could believe him doing anything.”

A hallmark for Hindman is his mental toughness. Jenny Weber, head coach of Z3 Triathlon Team and Hindman’s triathlon coach, has been working with Hindman on triathlon skills in St. Louis as well as coaching Hindman at summer triathlon camps in Des Moines, Iowa.

Webber noticed that Hindman was extremely disciplined and had an unteachable desire to compete.

“I recognized in Austin something that is difficult to coach: It’s this ability and desire and want to win,” Webber said. “He is genetically gifted and he has a champion mentality. I’ve seen it with a lot of the Olympians and great athletes I’ve coached and it’s something they all have.”

Burns has been impressed with Hindman’s work ethic and believes that it will help inspire his teammates. Burns also said he thinks Hindman can be an immediate contributor who will help the team as it makes its postseason push.

“He’s not a talker; he’s a doer,” Burns said. “He’s a leader by example. His work ethic inspires everybody. He’s a workhorse; the guy is a beast. We expect him to be in our front group right away and to work hard.”

Hindman’s biggest goal once he begins competing for Mizzou is to be an immediate contributor who will add depth to the top of the men’s team.

“[I want to] try to score points now for the team,” Hindman said. “I want to do whatever I can to help the team and be running my best.”

Burns said the plan for Hindman is to transition him back to the team slowly and to have him back for the Southeastern Conference Championship on Oct. 27.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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