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Originally published August 4, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Page modified August 4, 2012 at 8:19 PM

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Discus thrower Jarred Rome makes it back to Olympics after 2008 disappointment

NBC's highlight clips of Olympic athletes give you the happy version — fists punching the air in ecstasy, smiles from here to there...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Jarred Rome file

Event: Discus

Local connection: Marysville-Pilchuck High grad (1995)

Competes: Qualifying on Monday, finals on Tuesday

Why we care: His personal best is a 225-7 effort last year. 216 feet might earn a bronze medal in London, and it might take 7 to 10 feet beyond that for the gold.

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NBC's highlight clips of Olympic athletes give you the happy version — fists punching the air in ecstasy, smiles from here to there, runners breasting the tape and realizing their dreams.

They don't show you what happened to Jarred Rome in 2008, when the pressure of being an Olympic-caliber athlete who didn't make the Olympics turned his world upside-down.

Rome is the 1995 grad of Marysville-Pilchuck High who last month made his second Olympic team. He knows it should be his third, but he's richer for the shortfall and excited about the London Games, saying, "It's going to be one of the greatest experiences of my life."

The discus thrower will compete in London, beginning with Monday's qualifying, because of an Olympic trials performance that became a lot more harrowing than he might have expected. On his sixth and last throw of the finals, he unfurled a 207-10 effort that vaulted him onto the team — and relegated his training partner, former Washington State thrower Ian Waltz, to fourth place.

"I was extremely stressed out the week before the trials," he confessed recently over the phone. "I felt if I didn't make this team, what a failure I'd be."

It couldn't happen again, could it, a bookend to his misery of four years earlier? Rain visited Rome's trials qualifying round, and it returned three days later, right on schedule, messing with his mind. Rain means a wet ring, and that means a more careful spin for most throwers, and that can ruin timing.

As if he needed it, he was haunted by memories of his Olympic trials in 2008. Let him review it:

"Fourth in the world, No. 1 in the U.S., the best year of my career," Rome says. "I was throwing so far."

He went through the '08 qualifying round easily.

"Then I go into the final," Rome says, "and I had three throws slip out of my hand and go straight up in the air. It was over before it started."

But the shame wasn't. As vexed as he was with himself, he felt as much agony for the considerable support staff around him.

"When something negative like that happens," he says, "you feel like you let everyone down."

For two months, he was a mess.

"I didn't leave my house," he says. "I lost 25 pounds. I almost retired from the sport. I was extremely depressed."

Then one morning he woke up and realized the only avenue out was to fight back. He asked himself: "Is this the way you want to go out?"

Since that meltdown, he made world-championship teams in 2009 and 2011 and heaved his personal best of 225-7 last year. He hooked up in 2010 with a new mentor, former UCLA throws coach Art Venegas, at the U.S. training center near San Diego.

"He never mentioned it to me, but a lot of other people brought it up," says Venegas, referring to Rome's 2008 slide. "I knew it happened, but I didn't think it was that big a deal until other people told me."

Venegas has tried to coax more out of Rome with an emphasis on technique and flexibility. The strength part, Rome already brought. He weighs 308 and has bench-pressed 550 pounds and squatted 700.

"He's had to do some big changes mechanically late in his (discus) life, and he's pulled it off pretty well," Venegas says. "His flexibility has improved. He tends to over-train in the weight room, which takes away sometimes from his technique. For him, it's backing off, and he hates to do that."

For Rome, all this started back in Marysville, where football was his No. 1 sport and he liked the idea of adding stripes to his letterman's jacket with a spring sport. He got good results almost immediately and placed as a junior and senior in the shot and discus.

"I was pretty good," says Rome. "Not quite good enough to go to a Pac-10 school."

Truth was, Rome was dying to go to Washington. But the Huskies had gifted prospect Ben Lindsey of Lynnwood nearby, and couldn't come up with scholarship money for Rome.

"I could offer him a little bit of money, but not enough," says Ken Shannon, retired former Washington coach. "If I hadn't gotten Ben Lindsey, I would definitely have offered him a scholarship."

So the guy who "wanted to be a Husky all my life" instead headed for Boise State, where he got a full ride and had a great experience.

He's 35 now but won't hang it up after London. He wants to tackle at least one more world meet — Moscow in 2013 — before assessing the future.

One subject on which you won't find Rome equivocating is the do-or-die, one-meet way the U.S. picks its Olympic team.

"Our Olympic trials system is a joke and it needs to stop," he says. "It's too much pressure on the athletes, too much training time and sacrifice for it to come down to one day. You can get sick, you can get a cramp, you can get a false start. It can rain, and the ring is slick and you fall down.

"No other country does it. Why do we do that?"

Rome figures 216 feet might earn a bronze medal in London, and it might take 7 to 10 feet beyond that for the gold. The U.S. outlook is sketchy; the world top 10 list this year — topped by Germany's Robert Harting, the defending world champion — doesn't include any Americans. Foreigners took the top nine spots at the worlds last year.

"No question I can throw that," Rome says, talking medal distances, "and no question I'll be in shape to do it."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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