The men’s 800m on Monday, June 21, 2021, delivered. In the race were the three top Americans, Donavan Brazier, Bryce Hoppel and Clayton Murphy. Brazier was NCAA champ and 2019 WC. Hoppel was NCAA champ and 4th in Doha. Murphy was 2016 Olympic bronze, and had been trying to get back to his 2016 self since Rio.
Well, Clayton Murphy is definitely back, as David Hunter reminds us here. David has done a fine job in giving us a word picture of the most exciting 800m race in the US in years. Hunter has also written several pieces on Clayton Murphy.
And he’s quite happy to see Clayton Murphy leading the world!
The roar of vindication, Clayton Murphy roars away 3 years of frustration, wins the Men’s 800m, photo by Kevin Morris
Clayton Murphy, winner of Men’s 800m, photo by Kevin Morris
Trials / Day Four: Clayton Murphy Is All The Way Back
June 21, 2021
Way back in 2016, former University of Akron middle-distance star Clayton Murphy was hotter than today‘s Hayward Field track. In March of that year, Clayton won the NCAA indoor 800m championship clocking 1:46.68. Moving outdoors, Murphy ran the 1500m at the NCAA championships and won going away in a time of 3:36.38. At the Olympic Trials, Clayton – now running for Nike – reverted back to the 800m. The then-21-year-old raced expertly through the rounds, followed his championship race plan to the letter, and won the final in 1:44.76 to make the Olympic team. At the Rio Olympics, Murphy ran through the rounds like a savvy veteran. In the final, the Ohio native executed the perfect race plan closed hard over the final 200 meters and passed France’s Pierre Bosse on the homestretch to capture the bronze medal in 1:42.93 behind Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi [1:42.61] and 800m world record holder David Rudisha [1:42.15]. Murphy ended the year ranked 6th in the world in the 800m by Track & Field News. Three of the athletes ranked ahead of Clayton finished behind him in the Rio final. Not to worry, life was good.
But then the new middle-distance star encountered some changes: several were very good [e.g. he fell in love with and ultimately married Ariana Washington, herself a highly accomplished sprinter and World Championship gold medalist.]; some were challenging [e/g. attempting to tackle an 800m/1500m double – 5 races in 4 days – in the 2017 US championships which went from challenging to impossible in the Sacramento steam bath;] and some were downright hardships [e.g. the unexpected gut-punch announcement of the banning of his coach Alberto Salazar on the day of his world championship 800m final in Doha].
Through it, all, Clayton – as resilient as a person as he is as an athlete – has continued to perform at a very high level. But until recently, a certain spark seemed to be missing.
Last summer, in the midst of the pandemic, newly-married Clayton and his wife Ariana moved back to Ohio and settled in. Ariana, now a retired sprinter, is experiencing success with her new business. Clayton is now back with his college coach Lee Labadie and the twosome has rekindled and recaptured the winning training formula and racing strategy that was evident during the last Olympiad.
But perhaps the best evidence of Clayton Murphy‘s rejuvenation has been his overall progressive performances this outdoor season, culminating with his three races in the Olympic Trials. Clayton has been able to ignore uninformed troll-like social media types who have criticized his early season racing results during periods where he was also engaged in heavy training blocks. He has ignored the baseless static and has stayed focused on the master plan that he and Labadie have forged.
Clayton Murphy, Isaiah Jewitt, semi-finals, photo by Kevin Morris
The wisdom of that training regimen has been evident in Eugene where Clayton successively looked stronger and raced better in each of his three rounds in the 800 meters. In his preliminary race, the Nike athlete ran a negative split 1:47.84 to finish .01 seconds behind USC‘s Isaiah Jewett. In his semi-final race, Clayton ran another negative split race to win his heat in 1:46.26. And in the final, Clayton had his game face on and his focus intact. He exhibited patience and discipline by reacting positively to Jewett‘s speedy initial circuit clocked in 50.60 – an opening quarter evoking memories of Johnny Gray. Clayton, in 5th place with 350 meters remaining, found himself with work to do. And he was up to the task. Following the game plan he assembled with Coach Labadie, the 800m specialist started to move with about 230m to go, passing other finalists around the curve and catching Jewett on the home stretch for a validating victory. Posting yet another negative split race – 51.67 / 51.50 – Clayton had followed the directive from Labadie: ” stay close to the top guys.” Murphy – running each of his three races faster – clocked a winning time in the championship race of 1:43.17, setting a new Hayward Field record; a new Olympic Trials record; and a new world leader.
Clayton Murphy, photo by Kevin Morris
Now with the pre-Olympic opportunity to rest, to take care of his body, and to do a touch of sharpening, Clayton Murphy is positioned well to perform at his best in Tokyo.
Clayton Murphy is all the way back. / Dave Hunter /
Clayton Murphy takes the win! US Men’s 800m, photo by Kevin Morris
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