RIO DE JANEIRO – With hundreds of text messages and Facebook messages waiting for him, Clayton Murphy said Wednesday afternoon it’s going to take a while to respond to all of his friends and family.
Two days after winning a bronze medal in the 800 meter run at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the 2013 Tri-Village graduate is relishing his Olympic experience even though there hasn’t been much time to rest or reflect on the magnitude of his accomplishment.
“I don’t think it’s overwhelming,” Murphy said. “I think it’s just exciting. I’m taking it in stride.”
Immediately following his third place Olympic finish – the United States’ first medal in the men’s 800 meter run since 1992 – Murphy went through all of the responsibilities of an Olympic medalist such as drug testing, media appearances and commitments to USA Track and Field. He didn’t return to the Olympic village until approximately 2:30 a.m. following Monday’s race and only got two or three hours of sleep before waking up and taking on more Olympic commitments.
Tuesday morning included an appearance on NBC’s “Today” before more media appearances and accepting his bronze medal.
“It’s been a whirlwind since it happened,” Murphy said. “It’s all been a part of the roller coaster.”
The roller coaster kicked into high gear Friday morning when Murphy began Olympic competition in the preliminaries of the 800 meter run. In a fast and physical heat, Murphy was bumped multiple times and almost fell before recovering to finish fourth in his heat with a time of 1:46.18.
“That was a little rough prelim, kind of nice wake up call,” Murphy said. “It was a little bit of a learning experience in the first Olympic race.”
Only the top three in each heat automatically qualified for the semifinals so Murphy had to wait to see if his time would be good enough to advance. It was nerve-wracking not having any control as he waited, he said, but ultimately he made it through as one of the 24 runners into the semifinals.
In Saturday’s semifinals Murphy finished second in his race with a personal-best time of 1:44.30, qualifying him for Monday’s championship. Just being able to compete for the United States and advance to the final of the 800, one of the toughest races in track and field, was a special feeling, Murphy said.
“It was a great honor to be able to represent the USA at the Olympics,” he said.
Murphy’s race for a medal on Monday was delayed slightly because of rain, but that didn’t have any negative effects on him, he said. Though it changed his warm up schedule, he still felt physically and mentally fine when his race began.
The Tri-Village alumnus was fifth midway through the 800 meter final but started to make his move late. With only three competitors ahead of him entering the final 200 meters, Murphy knew he had a shot at an Olympic medal.
“It was pretty exciting the last 200,” he said. “I was kind of in a tough position, but I was able to fight through.”
Murphy passed France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse in the closing moments of the race to win bronze. He finished behind only Kenya’s David Rudisha, who defended his Olympic title with a winning time of 1:42.15, and Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi, who won silver with a time of 1:42.61.
“It’s amazing,” Murphy said of winning an Olympic medal. “There’s not many words to put to that feeling. For sure hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Murphy won his medal by finishing Monday’s race in a personal-best time of 1:42.93 — which also was the third-fastest time in American history — dropping almost a second and a half from his previous personal best. While the new personal record was great, Murphy said, his sole focus the entire race was his competitors.
“For me it was all about racing the people and letting it go in the final,” he said.
Being an Olympic medalist at just 21 years old, Murphy knows the rest of the world’s elite runners will be seeking to beat him. He already had a target on his back following his championship at the USA Track and Field Olympic Trials, but now it’s even larger.
“I know the target on my back is kind of there,” he said.
With his Olympic competition now complete, Murphy isn’t sure what’s next other than starting his senior year of classes at the University of Akron on Aug. 29. He’s trying to set up some more races plus time with friends and family, but nothing is finalized yet.
In Rio Murphy has managed to spend some time with his mom, Melinda; dad, Mark; girlfriend, Tara Snipes; and coach, Lee LaBadie.
“The experience is great and to be able to share that experience has been special,” he said.
Murphy has been able to visit the sites around Rio and also watch some other Olympic sports such as basketball and handball and hasn’t had any problems.
“I’m taking everything in and enjoying everything while I can,” Murphy said. “It’s been great experience on and off the track for sure.”