Right on track

  • By Rich Myhre / Herald writer
  • Monday, October 2, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

MARYSVILLE – Because Jarred Rome is a big, strapping fellow, people seem to know he’s an athlete. Sometimes they strike up a conversation, like the woman he once met in an airport.

Gazing up at Rome, who stands 6 feet, 4 inches and weighs 310 pounds, all of it sculpted muscle, she asked, “Are you a football player?”

“No, ma’am,” Rome replied politely. “I’m a U.S. Olympian.”

Disappointed, she turned and walked away.

Her civility shortcomings aside, the woman was right about one thing. Rome looks a lot like an NFL offensive lineman, which he might have been had his sports career not taken a detour or two.

But he is not a football player, he is a track and field athlete. And if you haven’t heard of him, you haven’t been paying attention.

Rome, a discus thrower, is one of the world’s best. After a disappointing 2004 Olympics in which he finished 13th (his first-place U.S. Olympics Trials throw would have won the bronze medal in Athens), he placed seventh at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland; fifth in series points for the 2006 European Golden League, and third in mid-August at the final Golden League meet in Zurich, Switzerland.

Not bad for a kid from Marysville who never won a state championship, never won a national collegiate championship, and in fact was not even good enough to get a scholarship offer from the University of Washington, which had been his boyhood dream.

What followed has been a long, painstaking and sometimes tedious climb, but he has climbed nonetheless. All the way to the cusp of another dream – an Olympic medal.

At the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China, Rome expects defending Olympic discus champion Virgilius Alekna of Lithuania to be the likely winner, but after that “I have as much of a shot at getting a medal as anybody else in the field,” he said. “And I’m not saying I can’t get the gold. Alekna is obviously favored, but if I have a really good day I could get the gold.

“But I look at it as wanting to get any medal. Of course you want the gold because you want to be first. But I don’t care if it’s bronze. Because that means you’re in the top three and that’s the pinnacle, just getting on the (medals podium).”

Four years later is the 2012 Games in London, another target because Rome is 29 and discus throwers typically reach their primes from 30 to 35.

Although he once yearned to be the football player so many people think he is, track and field has become not only Rome’s passion, but a full-time profession. He lives most of the year at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and from there he commutes to meets around the country for the winter indoor season, when he puts the shot, and the spring outdoor season.

In the summer he crosses the Atlantic for the hugely popular and thus lucrative European pro circuit, highlighted by the Golden League schedule for the sport’s elite. It is in Europe that Rome sheds his anonymity for the glamorous life of a sporting celebrity.

“It’s absolutely wonderful,” Rome said. “You’re flying on charter flights, staying in five-star hotels, getting picked up in limos. At a lot of the meets, you can’t leave the hotel without security. In Germany people are screaming your name, and then you go to Italy and people are screaming your name, and then you go to Spain and they’re screaming your name. It’s that way all over Europe.”

Many of those same people fill the stadiums there, with crowds typically between 30,000 and 60,000, though there were 70,000 spectators for last year’s World Championships in Helsinki.

Like most top athletes on the European circuit, Rome receives a negotiated appearance fee. He usually gets a few thousand dollars per meet, though the big names – and the biggest are Olympic gold medalists – might get $50,000. In his heyday, U.S. sprinter Michael Johnson was pocketing almost $75,000 just for showing up.

For placing first, an athlete might win an additional $25,000. Rome was generally around fifth place, which was about $10,000.

Money also trickles in from other sources – sponsorships, for instance – which helps put Rome in the six-figure income bracket. Nice money, of course, though a future Olympic gold medal could push that much closer to seven figures.

Further in the future, Rome plans to retire from competition in the Marysville area. He has an undergraduate degree in business administration, a master’s degree in business education with a mathematics endorsement, and he would like to be an education administrator and a coach.

“I love working with kids and I love the high school level,” he said. “I’ve traveled all around the world, I know what it’s like to be a world-class athlete, and I feel I have so much to offer young kids as far as teaching them to be leaders and helping them to develop.”

For now, though, he cherishes the opportunity to make a good wage on an international stage.

“It’s pretty amazing to travel the world and compete for the United States,” he said. “It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. It’s absolutely been a dream come true, and anything good that happens to me from this point on is just whipped cream on the sundae. If I was to get hurt tomorrow and never compete again, I would absolutely be content with everything I’ve accomplished.

“Of course I want to get an Olympic medal, I want to continue to make money, and I have goals left to accomplish. But never, ever would I have imagined in my whole life that I could get this far. It’s been the most amazing ride of my life and I don’t want it to end. I want to do it for as long as I can and I’m going to do it for as long as I can.”

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