May 20, 2009

Finley sets state, national record

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At the High Altitude Challenge on April 25, Mason Finley of Buena Vista (Colo.) High School threw the discus 236 feet, 6 inches, breaking the national high school record.

What made this throw even more astounding is that he had a sore shoulder, said Finley's mother, Lisa.

"It was the third time he had thrown at a meet that week," she said. "He told me, 'I'm not going to do well.' Unfortunately, I wasn't there, but as a mother, it does get your heart."

He explained the few seconds leading to this historic moment.

"I got in the ring, felt relaxed, spun and came off the back a little faster than usual; my body position and technique all went well," Finley said. "There was a huge snap off my wrist, and I knew it was a good throw. After they measured, I was speechless. It was incredible."

Finley, a gentle giant at 6 feet 8 and 325 pounds, surpassed the previous record of 234-3 set by Niklas Arrhenius of Mountain View High School (Orem, Utah) in 2001.

To follow up that feat, Finley set a new meet record in the shot put Friday at the Colorado Class 3A state track and field championships. The day before, he broke the state 3A record in the discus.

By throwing the shot 67 feet, 10 1/4 inches, Finley broke his own meet record mark of 64 feet, 9 1/4 inches. He also set a new Colorado prep record in the event, bettering the previous record of 66 feet, 3 1/4 inches set by Jim Banich of Arvada in 2008.

Finley's size alone is enough to register awe from onlookers; with a disc in his hand, people literally stop, bewildered by his sheer grace in the ring and the distances to which implements fly.

"I throw the disc on the same field as the soccer field," Finley said. "When I'm throwing, soccer practice stops. I'm afraid I'll hit someone."

For a son to follow in his father's footsteps is hardly news. When one's father is 6-7 and a former collegiate thrower, the challenge is much more difficult.

In sixth grade, Finley took his proverbial first step into the ring. He threw a Frisbee weighted with sand.

"My dad [Jared] was a thrower in high school and earned a scholarship to the University of Wyoming," Finley said. "He's sort of obsessed with shot and disc; it's all he thinks about. We watch film of elite throwers. He's really helped me with my form. Some fathers and sons go hunting or play basketball we throw."

"We" also includes his 12-year-old twin sisters, who already throw the discus 80 feet.

Finley is widely considered one of the top two or three track and field recruits in the Class of 2009. He'll join fellow '09 recruit and national-caliber thrower Matt Kosecki (Humble, Texas) at UCLA and provide coach Art Venegas a powerful 1-2 punch.

The decision to attend UCLA was not an easy one for Finley.

"We visited Texas A&M, KU, Arizona State and Mizzou," his mom said. "He just felt comfortable with Coach Venegas."

The transition from high school to college is a significant rite of passage; there's a great deal to learn to ensure success in the next stage of life. With a GPA near 4.0, Finley's academic prowess is as substantial as his mammoth throws. And while the discus snares all the headlines, his shot put exceeds 71 feet.

The shot, however, hasn't always proved kind to Finley. His experience at the 2008 Nike Outdoor Nationals proved the antithesis to his triumph in the discus just a few weeks ago.

"I choked in the shot and didn't make the finals. I scratched with a toss of 64 feet," he said. "I really let my dad down."

Yet, with all the pressure of chasing the national record in the disc behind him, new goals have been realized: "240 in the disc and 74 in the shot."

And while a pair of Colorado state titles would be the perfect ending to a fabulous high school career, the summer schedule should prove quite ambitious: the Great Southwest Track & Field Meet in Albuquerque, N.M. (June 5-7), the Golden West Invitational in Folsom, Calif. (June 13), the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. (June 18-21) and hopefully a trip to Trinidad-Tobago for the Pan Am Games.

And when there's a chance to rest?

"I play guitar old school rock, so I'll mess around the house and annoy the family," Finley said.

Perhaps rock 'n' roll isn't ready for a 6-8 guitarist jamming to Metallica or Egypt Central "my two favorite bands" but the track and field community can count its blessing that during the second week of this past football season Finley injured his wrist.

"My dad pulled me out immediately so I'd have plenty of time to work on throwing without further injury," Finley said. "I'm going to stick with throwing in college. I'm done with football. I want to stay in the throwing world as long as possible, maybe be a university coach after my professional career and the Olympics."

It's only fitting that his dreams are as far reaching as his throws.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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