Mason Finley - U.S. Olympic Team - Discus
Men’s Discus Qualifying Round: Thursday, July 29th, 8:45pm Eastern Daylight Time (U.S.)
Men’s Discus Final Round: Saturday, July 31st, 7:15am Eastern Daylight Time (U.S.)
Women's Discus Qualifying Round: Friday, July 30th, 8:30pm Eastern Daylight Time (U.S.)
Women's Discus Final Round: Monday, August 2nd, 7:00am Eastern Daylight Time (U.S.)
The past year and a half presented unique challenges and obstacles to the athletes vying for the 2020 Olympics. The Games themselves were delayed a year, and still face hurdles even though the competition is underway. In this Q&A, Mason Finley, 2-time Olympian in the Men's Discus, spoke with me just before departing for Tokyo and shared his story of how he maneuvered through the adversity and made his way to be ready for his Olympic moment.
Andy Pettit: Let’s go back to January, 2020. How did things unfold for you early in the pandemic?
Mason Finley: So, before we knew anything was going on, everything was going great. Training as usual and basically I was doing fine. I got the call from the NCAA's, Coach Andrew Kokhanovsky was out there and the weight throwers were warming up and they shut it down, while they were getting ready to compete. Coach gives me a call and it's like, “Hey man, this is getting serious. You need to go buy weights, you know, kind of make your own weight room. Because I think they're going to take us out of the facilities for a short while.” So I went to Academy Sports with two cars and just loaded it with all the weights I could, like different bar bells. I found some interchangeable dumbbells on Facebook Marketplace and bought a bunch of stuff and decked out my garage. As it turned out, the pandemic lasted way longer than we thought.
Then, they postponed the 2020 Olympics, thank God. By that I mean, at first, I honestly thought they were going to be canceled, and that would have been just heartbreaking. And so basically I'm lifting out of my garage all summer, no AC, and I'm very, very used to AC. We also couldn't throw at my regular facility, so we found a middle school and Coach Andy and my team, Whitney, Ashley, my training partner and I, practiced every day throughout the entire summer. No meets, just hard work at this new-found middle school space. Working with a sports psychologist was very helpful during that time, just saying, “You know, we need to spin this into a positive, like you have time to work on things that you normally wouldn’t have the time to do. And so it was just really nice to have a group where we all were just staying positive and trying to figure it out. And I think we did well with what we had.
AP: To have the foresight to see that facilities would be shut down and you’d have to build your gym amidst a run on weights was quite incredible.
MF: I know. it was. The call was made by Coach because I wouldn't have thought of it either. And I'm so glad I did it because you saw what happened. The price of weights skyrocketed, and I got them in the nick of time, but I didn't get everything I needed at first. And then, a few people donated some weights to me, around here in Kansas City. A lot of people helped. In normal times, this is pretty basic stuff, but when you suddenly don't have it, you don't have it very quickly. It's like, oh, dang, I need that.
AP: Veteran guys like you who've been around for a while, may have had a harder time pushing through such a long spell of delays and uncertainty like this without meets and so forth, and maybe hung it up for good. Do you know of any?
MF: I'm trying to think. It honestly seems like most people stuck through it. There’s Daniel Stahl (SWE) and Andrius Gudzius (LTU). Even guys like Philip Milanov (BEL) and Robert Urbanek (POL) are still throwing. What I mean is that's just to show there is a lot of love for this sport, whether it's going good or whether there's way more adversity than we're used to. It just shows that there's a lot of us that will do this through thick and thin.
AP: How do you approach something you're shooting for, like the Olympics, and it's not a sure thing? Even now you're still facing uncertainty day by day as to what's going on, how do you deal with a target that keeps moving back and side to side?
MF: That's a really good question, because it's not just the Olympics that were affected. They canceled the Under-20 Worlds and Under-23 Pan Am’s and the Thorpe Cup. Those are a big deal, especially for the kids who are transitioning into the next levels. I feel like those teams are really a big deal. They were a big deal for me. When I was in the Under-20 world championships or the Pan-Am games, it just keeps you in it. You get to look at something in the future. And so it was heartbreaking to see that those got canceled. And to your question I guess I haven't really even asked myself. There wasn't a moment where I was like, “Well, should I hang it up?” I don't know why I didn't ask myself that question, but I just feel like I'm still able to throw and I still I haven't hit my potential, and practices haven't gotten boring and stale. I'm just following my passion here and just taking whatever opportunities may be there.
AP: How many meets have you actually had this year?
MF: Not very many. I've only thrown in three meets this year. And a lot of that is actually due to silly injuries that I wish didn't happen, but that's part of the game too.
AP: I see that in the Rock Chalk Classic, your first meet in over a year, you threw 217’-10”. Bronze in Rio was 220’, so you had to feel pretty good about that.
MF: Yeah, that was great. It was so cool coming back to that first meet after Covid-19, after that 2020 year of nothing, and I remember showing up for the meet and I just felt the butterflies again. I was like, oh man, I remember this! And I just got jacked, you know? And there were no other professional throwers in the men's discus, just myself and the college kids; but just the atmosphere of a meet again. It was great. I threw well there.
AP: What about aches and pains along the way?
MF: I've dealt with back injuries since I was 22. Like herniated disc, but I've got that under control. I can rehab that out if it flares up. But this year presented new SI-joint-hip-flexor injuries. And so I'm trying to navigate that and I'm starting to get my hang on it. But plane rides are a problem, just being kind of compact in that seat. And it's like pushing on your hips for four hours. I've talked with a few chiropractors and PT guys and they've giving me stuff to do on the plane to prevent that.
Even though it sucks, at the same time, I honestly think it keeps it interesting. There are always going to be challenges for throwers, even if things are going really well. So it's good to have the mindset that no matter how well you’re doing, something is going to go wrong. You have to do your best to stay positive and figure out how to defeat the problem.
AP: In terms of training, what do your final two weeks look like leading up to the Games?
MF: We just finished our third week of post-trials training. Then we entered a load phase where we upped the reps and try to keep the weight significantly heavy while not maxing out. It was like “shock the body.” So I've been real sore and tired, but now that we're two weeks out, we're going to taper off here and just kind of keep it light and fast. We’ll keep the amount of throws and frequency down and just try to get really nice looking throws, not necessarily like hard or far, or blasting them. We really want to drill in the rhythm, balance and flow because the adrenaline will take care of the distance. If I try and blast a throw with just adrenaline, the result will be terrible.
AP: Given that there will be no family, no spectators and all of the other oddities of a pandemic-affected Olympics, how do you find a silver lining when you land in Tokyo?
MF: We continue to deal with adversity. Japan is still in a state of emergency, so we'll be pretty much quarantined to our rooms. Usually, we have two weeks before we compete. I'll have five days. I land on the 25th and compete on the 30th. The silver lining in that, in my opinion, is I’m going to train my mind to be like “this is a business trip.” It's “get there, face whatever version of adversity that there is, and get the job done!” You're not there for a vacation.
AP: As much as the discus is an individual sport, it seems there is great camaraderie among the three team members, like it’s really a team.
MF: I know for myself that I choose to be like that. I think it's silly to have bad blood or stuff between competitors in this event. I enjoy trying to pick each other up more. I remember at the U.S. Trials, after the first three throws, I think Reggie (Jagers) and I were fourth and fifth or fifth and sixth. We were just sitting there and I got up and I looked at him. I said, "Man, we need to get into the top three, now!” He just shook his head up and down and said, ”Yeah.” That gave me the feeling that we were working together to get the best throw out of each other. I think it's much more helpful than having an attitude of, "I'm better than you" or "I'm going to beat you." I don't know. For me, it's all kind of like synergy, right? Like, if they feel good, then that’s going to make me feel good. And we're both going to get really awesome throws and, you know, that's how it's going to be.
I think it's just maybe the social media aspect of things. I'm no professional, so I don't know why people do it (attack on social media), but there's a lot of negative energy out there on the internet. And, I can't stand it, man. And so anything that I try to do is always going to be positive to combat that. In the grand scheme of things, I haven't seen anybody out there in the throws world that was successful talking smack..
AP: When do you leave for Tokyo?
MF: July 24th, departing from Chicago and going over the Arctic Circle. It's a 13-hour flight. The plane ride is going to be the beast of this trip for me. But I'm pretty confident I’ll get through it based upon some of the stretching exercises I’ve received. I might bring some recovery tools on the flight and they told me that every 30 minutes to an hour, get up, move, do these certain stretches that you can do on a small plane. I can't do yoga or anything, but with a massage gun or some bands, I can make sure that the hips don't get too locked up.
AP: After scorching heat at the U.S. Trials, I guess you’ll be ready for the weather in Japan?
MF: Yeah, it was weirdly warm there.(trials). Tokyo will be nice and hot and humid.
AP: Now I understand you have a baby daughter coming in October.
MF: Oh yeah. My wife and I are just so excited. The nursery is already made and done and we're just…we're ready for her to come into the world.
AP: Even though you’ll have no spectators in Tokyo, how has the support been here at home?
MF: It’s been really great. I threw the first pitch out at a Kansas City Royals game and my wife is putting together a huge viewing party for the competition. It’s been crazy community support. I just feel very blessed.
AP: Well, best of luck and if you have time, be sure to follow Al Oerter’s story of the ’64 Tokyo Games, “The Impossible.”
MF: Awesome. Yeah, definitely. I'll have plenty of time. Like I said, we'll be locked in the room, so I'll be looking to keep my mind occupied. That's incredible. God, I love his story.
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