Mason Finley has come a long way from Jeffco Stadium and the Class 3A track and field championships. After failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, the Buena Vista grad won the discus at the U.S. Olympic Trials earlier this month with an impressive toss of 63.42 meters.
Now he's off to Rio de Janeiro.
He's one of just several Colorado high school athletes looking to bring home gold medals. He took some time to chat about coming out of Buena Vista and what is mindset is with the games quickly approaching.
Question: They don't breed them small out in Buena Vista. The last two notable athletes to come out of the school are you and New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder. What is it about living in that area that the big guys are the ones who are succeeding?
Finley: Oh, I'm not sure really. I think it kind of shows how many athletes come out of there and it's just a testament to the support that our coaches and teachers there have given us.
It's just the work ethic that we've learned again from our coaches and teachers out there.
Q: At what point of your throwing career did you think that the Olympics was a legitimate possibility?
Finley: I felt like after having success in my high school career, probably my junior and senior year, that it could be a possibility.
Trying to achieve it for the 2012 Olympics, I had some speed bumps during that area of my training. It just pushed me even further and I guess it didn't become a reality again until this season.
Q: You said you hit some speed bumps. What did you learn from that experience in failing to make it?
Finley: I think I just had a different vision of what it took to be a good thrower during those times.
I was trying to get really big, really strong just seeing what some of these guys looked like when I was younger. I was going about things in the wrong way. I got really heavy and started having back injuries and stuff like that.
I learned that everyone's body is different and you have to adjust to your gifts. Each person has their own talents that they need to let shine and not work on what someone else is doing.
Q: What's the biggest difference between competing up at the state meet at Jeffco Stadium as opposed to an Olympic qualifier?
Finley: It's definitely more mental than anything. It's tougher competition for sure. Physically, you do need to change some stuff. I changed a lot of my technical aspects to my throw. I changed my body for more muscle and less fat, kind of doing appropriate body composition there.
But I'd say the biggest change is becoming mentally ready to handle that big of a venue.
Q: Since you qualified, have you seen people come out of the woodwork, whether it's someone from high school or friends from college wanting to congratulate you?
Finley: Yeah, definitely. As soon as I got done, after meeting with drug testing and media stuff, I didn't have a chance to check my phone.
As soon as I was able to, Facebook blew up, so many people were texting me it was crazy to see all the people I hadn't heard from in a while.
Q: Is it reassuring to see all that and to know that you have that support from people you haven't seen or talked to in a long time?
Finley: I think so. It's great to reconnect with people and just to have the knowledge and to know that you have such a big support base from back home.
Q: Speaking of support bases, I understand you're doing a lot to get your family to Rio. What does that involve?
Finley: We're doing a couple of things. First, we set up a GoFundMe page to try and get my mom and sisters out there. We're also going to do a fundraiser in Lawrence (Kan.) and I'm going to come up to Colorado, Salida and Buena Vista, and do a couple of things up there, too.
I learned really quickly that as soon as I was done with college, family is by far your biggest support group that you have and just all of the love, when I was down they were picking me up. All the help that my mom has given me. They definitely deserve to go.
Q: Are you feeling more pressure with this than actually getting qualified to go to Rio yourself?
Finley: It was definitely a lot of pressure at the Trials thinking about everything. It's a make or break situation.
This stuff isn't too much pressure, I'm not feeling too much pressure. It's just another goal.
Q: When it comes to the vision of the Olympic athlete, at least here in Colorado, you have Missy Franklin and Adeline Gray from the Denver area, do you kind break the stereotype as a kid who comes from a town of maybe a couple thousand people and school of 300 or so students?
Finley: When you just have those facts, yeah you break the stereotype. But at the same time, when you have a Nate Solder, when you have a Matt Hemingway from the same school who took second at the 2004 Olympics in the high jump.
It's kind of interesting that for some reason, out of that area it's not uncommon.
Q: When you think back to your time competing for Buena Vista, what sticks out the most?
Finley: I think the thing I remember the most is how hard working and loving my coaches were. It's definitely a family. It goes kind of a step further than, I don't really know what to compare it to, I can only imagine going to a bigger school things are separated a little bit more.
In a small town like that, things were just a lot closer because of the size of the population.
Q: Other than actually competing, what are you looking forward to the most about the trip to Rio?
Finley: I guess I haven't thought too much about it. I guess I want to go see some of the monuments there, kind of the touristy things.
Besides competing, definitely watching some of the other events if I have time. I would really like to watch some of the other world class athletes duke it out.
Q: What's the ultimate goal for you and what's an acceptable result at the Olympics?
Finley: The Ultimate goal is to get on the medal stand. Whether it be gold or bronze.
It would be acceptable to make the finals. I understand that this is my first time in this venue, competing at this level internationally, but I am still very confident that I can go in there and get in the finals if I can just keep my head.
Past that, if I'm on like I was in the prelims in Eugene, I should be in the running.