“NICE TO GET THAT MONKEY off my back.” The speaker is discus thrower Mason Finley and the monkey was finally getting a meet in after 19 pandemic-induced months away from the competition ring.
If the 30-year-old Finley accumulated any rust during the timeout, he shook it off forcefully on his return at the Rock Chalk Classic, spinning the platter on his first throw out to 217-10 (66.40), the fifth-longest meet of his career and his best since reaching 220-3 (67.13) at the ’19 Kansas Relays.
“That was probably the easiest 66 I’ve ever thrown,” says Finley, now a volunteer assistant at KU — where he threw for 3 years before finishing his college career at Wyoming. “It was just very nice and controlled, balanced, and that was just a testament to all the work that we’ve been doing over the last year and this winter.”
“We” includes Jayhawk throws coach Andy Kokhanovsky, who guides Finley’s training.
Finley is jazzed about his overall series in the opener, not just his initial throw. He says, “I was just really excited because it’s been so long since I competed last and it was just like, ‘It’s finally here,’ you know. I remember having just some butterflies and just pure excitement to get out there again.
“I warmed up pretty well and was able to progress my throws in the warmup so I could start at a good point and didn’t try to really exceed what I was doing in warmups. And I was able to match my last throw in warmup for my first throw. So I was really happy to execute that.
“On my second throw [205-9/62.71]I made a mistake of trying to speed it up and it kind of threw off my rhythm. I was pretty proud of myself, though, because typically when I do that I kinda mess up the rest of the competition, but I was able to settle down in the finals and get my throw back out to another 66 [217-2/66.19]” on his final heave.
The C19 year of ’20 raised a question about many veteran athletes: Would they push through a long spell with no meets, no earnings potential? In the mind of Rio 11th-placer Finley there was never any question.
“I couldn’t let it end on Doha, I didn’t like that,” he says with a laugh. After reaching his career best 223-2 (68.03) to take bronze at the ’17 World Champs as the first U.S. medalist since Anthony Washington’s win at the ’99 edition, Finley threw himself into frustration in the ’19 qualifying round when he missed the final by 3 inches (9cm) with the longest non-qualifying mark in Worlds history, 207-5 (63.22). He felt bound and determined to make up for that in Tokyo last summer — until the shutdown.
“It was shocking at first,” he admits, “and definitely kind of felt like a bummer with like, ‘Is the Olympics going to happen?’ You know, I’ve been training, started throwing in sixth grade and have been dedicating all this time. Eventually after a few days kind of went by, we just chose to look at it as a positive, that we get to train so much and work on things that we wouldn’t have time to work on.”
He continues, “I built my own gym in my garage. And then, man, I’ve never trained more, ’cause there were no meets and we’d train every day throughout the summer. At a middle school we found a ring where nobody was bugging us. And so yeah, we trained quite a lot more than I ever have.”
The long all-training block also allowed Finley to change things up outside the ring. He says, “I’ve been working with Jordan Clarke. He used to be a shot putter [a 4-time NCAA champion for Arizona State] and he’s been helping me with my diet. I just kind of gave more time to help me with that. And I’m in a really good place. Got my weight below what I was in high school, which is pretty crazy.” Finley now carries 335lb (152kg) on his 6-8 (2.03) frame.
“I’m moving better in the circle because of that,” he says. “Technical stuff we’ve been working on? I don’t know how to really explain it as far as specifics go that anybody would really recognize, but just becoming more relaxed in the ring, not trying to power it so much. And that just kind of gives me a different flow and it really paid off [in his opener].”
This weekend, Finley will travel to Mt. SAC for Sunday’s USATF Golden Games meet. His game plan, he explains, will be to “avoid that mistake” of over-accelerating on his second throw at Rock Chalk “and just keep rolling.”
For some years, Finley now feels he tried too hard to rerun the PR throw that earned his London ’17 medal: “It was something I’ve been trying to replicate. And I think that was kinda messing me up for a while, trying to constrict myself to replicate this one throw.
“We’ve been working really hard this last year on trying to not live in the past and just be in the moment, feel the flow — ’cause each day’s different, you know. It’s not like I can throw exactly 68.03 again by trying to do those movements.
“I actually liked this [Rock Chalk] throw technically better than my London throw, but I mean, that was when I was supposed to be peaking and this is the first meet. So I’m really excited to see where this year can take me.”