TIM PEELER: Pope Makes Pro Debut at USA Championships
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH On the day after he arrived in Sacramento, Calif., for the NCAA Track & Field Championships, ACC shot-put champion Mitchell Pope was a little frantic. He felt uncomfortable in the throwing circle and none of the components of his throws were coming together.He took an hour off, then went full bore at trying to make the perfect throw. On his next attempt, he felt something pop in his left side. It was diagnosed as a strained transverse abdominal muscle, a painful injury for someone who relies on his core strength to throw the 18-pound steel ball.
“I over-practiced,” Pope said. “I should have said, I’ll get it together when it counts and not worry about it.’ I guess it was my last time being out there and I wanted it to be perfect.”Pope, a two-time All-America in indoor track and field, had never made All-America in outdoor. And he went to Sacramento with the hopes of winning the event, not just placing.
For the next 48 hours he spent more time with the NCAA-provided acupuncturist and chiropractor than he did practicing for the biggest meet of his life. He had needles poked in his feet, arms and scalp. He used every technique imaginable to make the pain subside.Pope barely made it out of the preliminaries, earning a 10th-place spot with a throw of 60 feet, 11 inches, some four feet off the best throw of his career.
“I was in so much pain and so weak, I just barely squeaked through qualifying on the first day,” Pope said. “On just about every throw, I was about to break into tears and couldn’t breathe.”But on Saturday, the pain wasn’t as intense. He and his coaches found some prescription-strength pain relief patches that helped even more than the acupuncture needles. It didn’t hurt nearly as much to throw.
After four throws, Pope was in sixth place, good enough to earn him his first outdoor All-America honors. “I thought that might be as good as I could do, under the circumstances,” Pope said.But on his fifth throw, everything came together perfectly. The shot put went 64 feet, 9 inches not quite the career-best he threw in the first outdoor meet of the season, but good enough for first place.
“My name came up on the board as No. 1 and I got this huge smile on my face,” Pope said. “I had a big grin on my face. I tried to hide it, but I didn’t do a very good job.
“I think if I had been healthy, that would have been a big, huge throw, maybe 67 feet. Everything was just right on that throw.”Southern California’s Noah Bryant surpassed Pope on his next throw, winning the NCAA title at 65 feet, 9 inches. But Pope’s throw held up for second place, matching the best NCAA finish in school history for a throwing event. Bob Medlin also finished second in the shot put in 1977 and Mike Murphy finished second in the javelin in 1980.
“All things considered, it went about as well as it could have gone,” said Pope, who finishes his college career as a three-time All-America.But he’s not done throwing yet. This weekend, Pope will make his professional debut in the USA Track & Field Championships in Indianapolis, going against the top 17 collegiate and professional throwers in the country. Preliminaries begin on Friday, with the top eight advancing to Saturday’s finals. The top three finishers advancing to the World Track and Field Championships next month in Osaka, Japan.
Pope, who took some days off practice last week to let his side muscle heal, just hopes to make a good enough showing at the meet to catch the eye of the shoe companies so he can train professionally. (His career-best throw ranks as the 24th best throw in the shot put by anyone in 2007.)The 6-5, 340-pound Mitchell knows he needs to be bigger and stronger to compete against the best in the world. That’s why he’s on a diet that requires him to take in 6,000 calories and 300 grams of protein per day to bulk up his muscle and reduce his body fat. He’s looking to be under 10 percent by the time next year’s USA Championships roll around.
“This time around, I am just trying to get healthy,” Pope said. “A top five would be great, but my main goal there is to make the finals.”
You may contact Tim Peeler at email@example.com.