Clayton Murphy was impressive in 2016. I was doing BBC radio when I was asked, just prior to the 800m final, how newbie Murphy would do. I predicted, on LIVE radio that Murphy could win the bronze medal, and he sprinted home, just when it opened up, and Murphy ran to Olympic bronze. His 2017 was a rough year, but Clayton Murphy is working with Alberto Salazar, and looking better than he has in over a year. Here’s David Hunter’s fine piece on the Olympic bronze medalist, who is looking ready for the challenge of the 800m final on Sunday, June 24, 2018.
June 21st, 2018
Des Moines, Iowa
Olympic 800 meter bronze medalist Clayton Murphy is an even-tempered athlete with a stoic demeanor. Never too high, never to low, the Nike athlete always stays on an even keel. Murphy has seen the very good times. But he has also faced unexpected, calamitous times as well. Through it all he has stayed rock steady.
A 1:54 800 meter athlete coming out of high school, the New Paris, Ohio native religiously followed the middle distance road forward as mapped out by University of Akron assistant coach Lee Labadie. Under Labadie’s watchful eye, and in less than 3 years, the budding athlete compiled multiple Mid-American Conference titles; earned a spot of the USA’s Beijing world championship team and just missed making the final; was a Pan Am Games gold medalist at 800 meters; earned a silver medal at 800 meters at the NACAC championships; won 2 NCAA championships; and won the U.S. Olympic Trials 800 meter final. Along the way, He dropped his 800 meter PR by 10 seconds. At Rio, after surviving a disastrous opening round bump and near fall, he went on to advance through the rounds and win the bronze medal in the 800 meter final. His Olympic final clocking of 1:42.93 – another whopping PR – is #3 on the USA all-time list. Incredible progression and success didn’t faze Murphy who took it in stride, remaining understated and focused. Life was very good indeed.
Murphy’s 2017 got underway on bright notes. Savvy racing garnered the Olympic bronze medalist the indoor national crown at 1000 meters. And in April, his 800 meter clocking of 1:43.60 – the fast-two lap clocking ever run that early in the outdoor year – would remain #1 on the world list for almost 3 months. In early May, Clayton finished his undergraduate studies on time and received his degree in finance from the University of Akron. But then things changed.
Hounded by the media all year to announce the event he would run at the U.S. nationals – the meet where USA’s world championship team would be determined – Murphy surprised many by declaring he would run both the 800m and the 1500m. Fascinated by the challenge, Murphy chose a risky pathway which became absolutely treacherous when Sacramento became bathed in oven-like temperatures. After early round successes, dehydration and severe cramping caused Murphy to jog in the final half lap of the 1500m final and prevented him from even starting the next day’s 800m final. Toss in a west coast relocation, a new coaching situation after joining the Nike Oregon Project, and some personal life changes and Murphy’s once-stabilized environment was replaced with new and different dynamics which would take a while to settle.
And settle they eventually did. The coach-athlete relationship has stabilized as Murphy and Alberto Salazar appear to have found the effective training formula. The once-textbook racing form which had escaped Murphy has now returned as has his racing savvy. And, most importantly, his times are improving. The stop watch doesn’t lie. After a promising, but uneven, indoor season and some so-so performances at Mt. SAC and in the early Doha Diamond League gathering, the former Zip had a nice breakthrough performance in Shanghai clocking 1:45.97 in a hot 800m to finish 6th. He followed that up with a 3:53.40 Bowerman mile performance at Pre. How tough was that field? Murphy runs a #5 world list performance – and finishes 5th. And Murphy capped off his pre-national preparation with 1500m victory [3:40.25] at the Portland Track Festival.
Here in Des Moines, Clayton Murphy, the 2016 800m national champion, began his quest to regain the title with a solid opening round performance. Well placed throughout the race, Murphy tossed in a prolonged surge over the closing 200 meters, lifting nicely down the homestretch to win his heat in 1:47.17 – the 2nd fastest time of the day.
In the Day Two semi-final round of the men’s 800 meters, decorated middle distance veteran Erik Sowinski made his customary early rush to the front in the first heat, split 400m in 51.71, and went wire-to-wire for the win in 1:46.39, followed by fast-finishing Brandon Lasater, Robert Ford, and Jesse Garn – all under 1:47 – all of whom will join Sowinski in Sunday’s final. In the second semi, Harun Abda’s cautious first lap in 52.42 signaled a more tactical race. A quick move by NCAA 800m champion with 180 meters remaining went unchallenged by Murphy and others as the Penn State star drove on for the win in 1:47.07. In Harris’ wake were Murphy [1:47.51] , Abraham Alvarado, and Drew Piazza.
Afterward, in the makeshift media center located in the basement of Drake Stadium, a relaxed Murphy offered his views on his race and the upcoming final. “I felt like I didn’t suffer,” stated Murphy coyly when asked if his apparently easy run suggests he was holding something back. “I got the position I wanted. And I got there for Sunday.” The Olympic medalist acknowledged Harris’ surge but quickly decided not to take chase in the semifinal round. “He [Harris] went hard and that was a good move. Kind of caught me off guard a little bit. I thought about making the final – another round.”
Clayton acknowledged that his progression through this outdoor season suggested that he is once again finding his 2016 mojo “Yeah, things are coming along at the right time. Everything is looking good for Sunday. There are some things I’m continuing to work on. I’m still not at the top of my game. But I’m at a pretty good point right now. So it’s all about getting ready for Sunday.” Murphy’s 2018 progression is doing wonders in restoring the middle distance star’s confidence level. “It’s good,” declares Murphy in assessing his confidence level heading into Sunday’s final. “It’s at the top of where it could be. So it’s all about trusting the training, trusting what it took to get here, and trusting my running over the past two days. So I’m going to go home and get recovered and get ready.”
When told that elite American 800 meter athlete Donovan Brazier – attending this championship while nursing a recovering injury – was impressed by Murphy’s early round performances and picks him to win, the 2016 champion spoke kindly of his fellow competitor. “I appreciate that. It’s a big compliment,” said Murphy. “It’s just that it’s unfortunate he’s not here. Hopefully he can get back out there and we can race again. I’m out there to race. Donovan’s picked me. So I guess that’s one guy who’s picked me so far,” added Murphy in a light-hearted moment.
Before heading off, Clayton Murphy responded to a final question as to whether or not he’s the favorite in Sunday’s mid-afternoon final. Looking around at the Spartan conditions of the Drake Stadium subterranean media center, Murphy suddenly displayed a playful look. “That’s for you guys who sit here in the dungeon, twiddle your fingers, and write articles about it, right?”