Facing the back of the throwing circle, Mason Finley bends his knees and twists his torso to maximize the power of his throw. He pivots with his left foot and launches into his throw, spinning one and a half times and gaining more strength each time the ball of his foot hits the cement throwing ring. He flings the discus with an audible grunt.
At 6-foot-8 inches tall and 345 pounds, he’s a record-breaking force to be reckoned with.
Finley was awarded male MVP after winning in discus Friday during the Kansas Relays. His throw of 64.7 meters, or 210.2 feet, broke the meet's oldest record, according to a KU Athletics release.
Finley, a 25-year-old discus thrower from Chasen County, Colo., spent three years at the University of Kansas before he transferred to the University of Wyoming. He’s an eight-time All-American in shot put and discus and a four-time Big 12 champion in shot put and discus.
In high school, he broke the U.S. National High School record with a throw of 236 feet and 6 inches. As a freshman at the University, he threw 197 feet and 3 inches. To compare, the last Gold Medalist in the Olympic games threw 68.27 meters, or roughly 224 feet, and the World Record is 74.08 meters, or roughly 243 feet.
Now, Finley is back in Lawrence training with KU Athletics in preparation for the Olympic trials. Al Oerter, a four-time Olympic champion, is the only University alumnus to compete in the Olympics for discus. Finley hopes to be the next.
“I think somewhere in high school I had Olympic aspirations and then I got super serious about it. I was able to get the national high school record in discus and it was always part of my dream or my passion to try and be an Olympian," Finley said. "At this point, I’m just obsessed with it so I’ve stuck with it.”
Discus is an ancient sport which dates back to the Ancient Greek Pentathlon. A 4.4 pound disc is flung from a standing circle and once it lands, the distance is measured. Whoever throws the farthest wins.
Finley competed in his first meet of the season April 7 and won with a throw of 64.18 meters, or 210 feet. Before July 10, when the Olympic trials start, Finley must throw the Olympic standard of 65 meters, just over 213 feet, to qualify, something he says he’s confident he’ll accomplish.
“I should make the trials, there hasn’t been a year since 2009 that I haven’t,” he said.
Once he makes the trials, he’ll need to place in the top three to continue. When he competed in 2012 at the trials, he placed eighth, but says at that point he really wasn't a contender.
Finley’s father, Jared Finley, threw in high school and college. When Mason and his twin sisters were growing up, his dad would show them how to throw. When the kids weren’t in school Mason said they’d practice five days a week.
“My first discus was two frisbees that he filled with sand and taped together,” Mason said. “It was definitely something like a dad and a son go fishing, but our version of that.”
When Mason was about 12 years old, Mason’s dad, Jared, says he flung the makeshift discus off their porch and into the road. “I was like, ‘Well, I guess we better start training,’” he said.
Jared, 56, recently started to throw again in a Masters league. He said when he and Mason are together, they can indulge their need to talk about discus because nobody gets it like they do.
“When Mason and I are on the phone, we’re going to town," Jared said. "When we’re together everyone says, ‘They’re going to go talk technique.’”
Jared has high hopes for his son and the sport.
“I think he’s going to make it on the Olympic team and be one of the top throwers in the world,” Jared said. “He’s ready mentally and physically. I’m very, very proud of him.”
Mason was drawn to the KU athletics program because of throwing coach Andy Kokhanovsky’s coaching techniques.
“He explained throwing like no other American coach has. He’s from the former Soviet Union, and he’s more about the physics of throwing as opposed to like the feeling of how you throw,” Mason said. “He wasn’t so concerned with me getting super strong in the weight room. Like I saw a lot of coaches bulking up their throwers to the point where they couldn’t throw and they were getting injured in the weight room, and I didn’t want to do that, so I came to KU.”
After a two-year stint at the University of Wyoming, a “soul-searching-type journey” for Mason, and an injury, he found himself back in Lawrence. Mason, who began working as a volunteer assistant and training with Coach Andy, said everything luckily fell into place.
Kokhanovsky said it’s more enjoyable now to coach Mason because he’s learned more and is very dedicated.
Looking ahead to the Olympics, Kokhanovsky said Mason will be a future Olympian.
“He has a really, really good chance. It will boil down to how he performs on a certain day, and if he does well that day, he’ll make it, no doubt," Kokhanovsky said. "The sky’s the limit. He’s a great guy. He’s going to make it, that’s my personal feeling.”
— Edited by Cele Fryer