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London looms large for Frederick High grad

Sunday - 7/29/2012, 2:00am  ET

Vikas Gowda, a Frederick High School graduate and Maryland state record holder, has thrown discus at the past two Summer Olympics and will compete in London's Olympic Games. (Travis Pratt/Frederick News-Post)

The early years of Vikas Gowda's international discus-throwing career included two Olympic appearances, but had more bummers than breakthroughs.

Inconsistency, injuries and high-profile disappointments pockmarked his professional biography.

It wasn't that the 6-foot-9-inch, 308-pound Frederick High graduate was shrinking in the big moments, or that he didn't belong in them -- even as he struggled at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Games for his native India.

Rather, Gowda said, "I just wasn't that good yet."

Now, at the threshold of his third Olympics, the stage appears to be set.

Gowda, 29, has enjoyed the most successful stretch in his career since moving to Phoenix in 2009 to train with Olympic medalist John Godina at the World Throws Center.

In April, Gowda hurled his first personal best (66.28 meters; 217 feet, 5 inches) in five years to win a meet in Oklahoma. Heading into the London Olympics, that throw sits as the 16th best in the world (Germany's Robert Harting leads at 70.66 meters). He followed with a bronze-medal effort (64.86) at the prestigious Adidas Grand Prix.

This time around, Gowda has ironed out his problems to enter his prime with the Olympics on tap -- the exact scenario such an athlete strives for.

Gowda finds himself in the best form of a career that began around age 12, when a growing boy took a break from the triple jump for a dalliance with throwing under the eye of his father, Shive Gowda, the 1988 Indian Olympic track coach who moved his family to Frederick County in 1989.

Eventually, Vikas landed a full scholarship to the University of North Carolina, where he won the 2006 NCAA discus title as a senior. He then turned pro, though his occupation has been largely funded by his parents and whatever money he could make by putting his math degree to use as a tutor.

His throwing career -- including Olympic showings of 14th (Athens) and 22nd place (Beijing) -- didn't take off until a last-ditch trek to Phoenix. At first, he crashed in Godina's guest room with a balky knee. He had been injured and out of competition for a year, spending part of that time teaching math at Frederick High.

"I wish I would've moved out here a lot earlier; I would've saved a lot of time," Gowda said in a mid-July phone interview from Phoenix. "It was tough, but I got through it, and now I'm a lot better."

The discus, with its maddening "slow progression" rate of improvement, has become his life. London could be his defining moment.

It may sound like the same story that was spun four and eight years ago, but since 2010, Gowda has regularly put himself in the company of the world's leaders on some grand platforms: second at the Commonwealth Games; third at the Asian Games; seventh at the World Championships.

Gowda is no longer the thrower whom Godina termed "injured, skinny and a little rough" when he showed up three years ago. He's closer to healthy, brawny and sharper.

Said Shive Gowda, who will stay with Vikas in the Olympic Village, "This is the most important time of his life. This is high time to come up with it without any excuses."

Sense of confidence

Vikas Gowda's recent ascent can be traced to October 2010. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was packed, its inhabitants roaring support for Gowda as he stepped into the throwing ring in New Delhi.

Gowda, who has permanent residence in the United States, was born in Mysore, India. His people were fully behind him during the Commonwealth Games discus competition.

"You could just hear the noise and the excitement of the crowd when I would get into the ring compared to when everyone else was," said Gowda, owner of both the Indian national record and the Maryland state high school mark. "That meet kind of changed everything, because everyone in the stadium was cheering for me. That's probably the only time I've experienced that."

Gowda came through with a throw of 63.69 meters, good enough for the silver medal. With it came a previously elusive sense of confidence.

"Every eyeball was on him, and it was a huge deal," Godina said. "They don't have medal threats over there (in India), and he did do his job."

Godina has played a key role in Gowda's arrival as a medal hopeful, which many Indian publications have pegged him. Godina's team helped Gowda get healthy, pack on about 40 pounds of muscle and clean up his technique by focusing on his balance.

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