By the end it was very much a year to remember.
The 35-year-old Rome, a 1995 graduate of Marysville-Pilchuck High School, was recovering from knee surgery early in the year and wondering when, and if, he might throw the discus again at a world-class level. He ended the year as the United States champion, a World Championships participant, the Pan American Games silver medalist, and the possessor of a new personal best of 225 feet, 7 inches.
All in the space of 12 very memorable months.
And for his accomplishments last year, Rome is The Herald's Man of the Year in Sports for 2011.
The funny thing is, accolades like this one would have seemed far-fetched as the new year began. Rome had surgery on his left knee in the fall of 2010 and spent much of the ensuing months mostly just hobbling around. He still had residual pain in his knee until late June, just a few weeks before the U.S. Championships in Eugene, Ore.
"Up to that point it had been a really bad year," said the 6-4, 308-pound Rome.
Though he was unsure what to expect in Eugene, given that he was behind in his training, he ended up winning with a toss of 209-11. That first-place finish _ his second in the U.S. Championships, following another victory in 2004 _ earned Rome a place on the U.S. team for the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, where he placed eighth with a throw of 204-1 in late August.
His best throw came earlier in August during an event at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. On that day, Rome proved that he was back and better than ever with a career-best toss of 225-7. That mark would have won the silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and been just inches from the gold medal.
It was also the third-best discus throw in the world for 2011.
Rome capped his year off by winning the silver medal at the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, in late October. His mark was 202-5.
"All in all," Rome said, "it was one of the worst years of my career and then maybe the best year of my career. It was really up and down. … From winning nationals in June to getting a PR and then a silver medal at the Pan Am Games, it finished up being my best year.
"It was," he added, "a pretty amazing year. It turned out to be a lot more than I expected."
Going forward, Rome is gearing up for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in late June, once more in Eugene. A top three finish will earn him a spot on the American team for the Summer Games in London.
The Trials "are a pretty stressful ordeal," said Rome, a 2004 U.S. Olympian. "You have to show up that day and you have three throws to make it."
Rome, who is getting close to retirement, figures the upcoming Trials "will kind of be my last opportunity to make the (Olympic) team. So it's definitely a situation where I really want to make it." And if he does, "I really feel I'm in a situation to get a medal."
Rome had a disappointing Trials in 2008 and missed making the U.S. team for the Beijing games, despite being the top-ranked American discus thrower that year. Following that setback, he said, "I almost retired. But I'm very happy that I stuck with it."
And with the upcoming Trials just weeks away, he said, "I feel very prepared. I feel I'm in a really good position to make the team again."
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