With the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in full swing, nearly all eyes have been glued to the outcomes of the swimming events and women’s gymnastics at their respective venues in Brazil.
But some of the local athletes like archer Zach Garrett of Wellington, Missouri, and tennis player Jack Sock of Overland Park, Kansas, have also made their impact on the Olympic games.
Discus thrower Mason Finley is one of several track and field athletes with local connections scheduled to begin competition Friday.
Before leaving for Rio, Mason Finley got in a weight room workout at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, where he lives. At 6 foot 8 inches and 350 pounds, one might assume he’s preparing for the upcoming football season.
“I played football in high school. I played basketball and wrestling,” said Finley. “We did all those sports because we grew up in a small town.”
But Finley is a discus thrower. He attended KU on a track and field scholarship in 2010 and 2011. Though Finley grew up in Salida, Colorado, his dad, Jared Finley, was part of the powerful Wyandotte High School Kansas state championship teams of the late 1970s. He was a discus thrower, too. Mason carries on the family tradition.
“(I) Definitely always considered myself a thrower. He started us way too young to think otherwise,” said Mason with a laugh when talking about his father.
And not just Mason, but with his younger twin sisters Matia and Rebecca.
Matia competes in the discus at UMKC. Rebecca is in the process of joining her in the Kangaroos’ program as a transfer from Colorado State.
“As soon as we were watching my brother — he's six years older than us — watching him go to meets, we had fallen in love with it before we were even throwing,” said Matia Finley.
Discus has always been a family affair for the Finleys. Rebecca Finley said a family outing could easily become a discus practice when they packed a bag of discs along with their sandwiches.
“That’s accurate,” said Rebecca Finley while laughing. "We always carried them with us somewhere.”
Brian Bishop coaches Matia at UMKC and said this with a chuckle: “She’s a Finley. That’s for sure.”
Before coaching, Bishop threw the discus at KU. He roomed with Mason Finley, so he knows the family well. Bishop got a first-hand sample of the total family tradition at a Colorado fundraiser to help Mason Finley’s family travel to Rio.
“The second we got to Salida, we pull up and his dad’s got his discus out and doing drills in the driveway,” said Bishop.
In 2009, Mason set a national high school record in the discus that still stands. In Rio, Finley isn’t projected to win a medal. He caught the track and field world by surprise this season winning the discus throw at the Olympic trials. Still, Bishop said it wasn’t a shock to Finley. He remembered Finley’s determination when both were freshmen at KU.
“His first year there, we had an apartment together, so he was my first roommate on the team. We had talked about the Olympics since he moved in,” said Bishop. “It’s been a long-time coming.”
At KU, Mason Finley majored in film and acting. He transferred to Wyoming after the 2012 season, but before switching schools he made sure that Wyoming had a theater department.
“When I first saw 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream,' I definitely fell in love with it and it was just something I had to do,” said Finley.
Finley enjoys live theater and film. If asked, he can recite some lines from Shakespeare’s "Much Ado About Nothing," and shortly before the Olympics, Finley got a call from a film producer about a role as a bar bouncer.
“I understand that I’ll probably get thug/bad guy roles in film, but it’s still a start,” said Finley. “You’ve got to start somewhere.”
Mason Finley also knows that with the foundation of a family tradition, the Olympics will be his biggest stage. Unless, of course, he makes it big in Hollywood.
Greg Echlin is a sports reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @GregEchlin.