NEW MADISON – There are so many storylines and so many things that have and will be written about Clayton Murphy all deserving none the less.
In my 52 years of life and 20 years of sports coverage I’ve never personally known an Olympian and quite frankly never really expected to as well.
I’ve always watched the Olympics and admired the competitors representing the USA … but it seemed to lack something as the participants were always from a big city or someplace else, and even though you were proud of these individuals representing your country and in awe of what they do, it just never quite had a personal touch.
That is until now when a local boy named Clayton Murphy won the 800-meter race at the Olympic Trials to earn the right to represent the USA in Rio.
Tri-Village Schools held an Olympic watch party Aug. 12 for the quarterfinals in the 800-meter competition, and when Clayton just missed the automatic qualifying spot, finishing fourth in a physical race where he was bumped, tripped and pushed … well you could almost hear a pin drop as Murphy held his hands on his head with a bewildered look on his face wondering what just happened.
An equally stunned watch crowd back home was also trying to process what just happened, but moments later realized they had just witnessed a local man become an Olympian, the same boy they had seen so many times run the streets of New Madison, the backroads of Harrison Township and much of Darke County.
Murphy, who ran the third of seven heats, now had to wait and pray just as those at home would do that he would have one of the three fastest non-automatic qualifying times to advance to the semifinals.
As each of the remaining heats concluded and Murphy was still in contention there was another crescendo of emotions building, and when the final heat concluded and the announcer
said Murphy was in, hope sprung eternal and new life was given to Murphy and his many supporters.
The evening of Aug. 13 Murphy found himself matched up again with David Rudisha, the world record holder and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, in one of three heats of the semifinals with only the top two spots automatically moving on, and he knew it was going to take almost a perfect race.
A large crowd gathered at Schlechty’s to watch, but as the race start time got closer and NBC was still airing swimming, folks wondered what was going on. They soon realized the race wasn’t on prime time and panic set in.
People searched for Wi-Fi to stream it on their phones … but in a moment like this you realize, your still in small town America, now desperate to watch one of your own compete over 5,500 miles away.
As people scattered about in their quest for Wi-Fi, a small group of 60 people ended up in the shop of Ludy’s Greenhouse to watch the race on one mobile phone held up high for all to see. And even though it was being watched on just a four-inch screen, no one was complaining.
Clayton was able to get out clean to start the race, and being a quick learner, he protected his running space by arm barring the Italian runner, keeping himself close enough to Rudisha where he would finish behind him to move onto the finals.
When Clayton finished, the small jubilant group could hardly contain themselves … and just then another phone had the race on delay, so we watched it again, just to make sure we weren’t dreaming. It was the same outcome and celebration all over again.
Going into the Olympics Clayton set a goal to just reach the finals and then who knows what could happen … but one thing for sure no one in Darke County was counting him out, and why would they after seeing him overcome adversity to make the finals.
Tri-Village Schools again organized an Olympic watch party for the finals the night of Aug. 15 with hundreds of people filling up the commons area of the school that also saw multiple media members including TV news channels.
The buildup to the final would be delayed due to a rain delay in Rio but no one seemed to care, and when a picture of Clayton popped up on the screen showing him warming up in the ready room talking with Rudisha the crowd came to life.
Clayton would be assigned to the dreaded lane one … the same lane he had in the quarterfinals a cause for concern when trying to run a clean race.
It was a fast start to the race as Kenyan runner Alfred Kipketer took it out hard and when all the runners merged to the inside of the track after 100 meters Clayton settled into the fifth spot behind fellow team mate Boris Berian, and he ran pretty relaxed and clean for the first 400 meters in a lap that went 49.23.
But when the final bell lap sounded Algerian runner Taoufik Makhloufi came up on the outside of Murphy and the two got tangled up, a move that sling-shot Makhloufi forward while dropping Clayton back into sixth place.
A very raucous crowd showed some obvious concerns at the moment but quickly turned back to loud cheering because unlike the quarterfinals Murphy remained composed and focused quickly working back into his efficient gait.
By this time Rudisha made a move to the front with just over 200 meters to go, picking up the pace while Clayton passed Berian and then a fading Kipketer but still a good 20 meters off the lead.
As they made the last turn and with just three runners in front of Clayton the roar in the room was deafening as everyone who by now has seen and come to expect the Murphy 100-meter kick.
The kick was lethal enough to pick off France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse with 20 meters to go, and when Clayton crossed the finished line the roof blew off the school.
I saw grown men with tears in their eyes, women’s hands shaking while texting or tweeting and little kids jumping for joy.
That moment cemented a legacy while inspiring the next generation of runners … that’s what Clayton Murphy has done by winning the 800 meter bronze medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics by running a personal best time of 1:42.96 and the third fastest time ever by an American runner.
Murphy’s win symbolizes even more than that … he proved that no matter where you come from and no matter what anyone tells you … that if you believe in yourself, if you have passion and work hard enough that dreams can be fulfilled.
Thank you Clayton Murphy for taking us on your journey to the world stage, shrinking it down and personalizing it for all of us back home allowing us to truly enjoy the Olympic experience in a way we could have never imagined without you.
Thank you Mark and Melinda for sharing your son and Wesley your brother as Clayton Murphy will forever be an Olympic Champion and Tri-Village’s No. 1 son.