EUGENE, Ore. — Clayton Murphy, a 2013 Tri-Village graduate, will be returning to compete in the Olympic Games.
Murphy repeated his 2016 performance by winning the 800-meter Olympic time trials while also recording the fastest time in the world this year, 1:43:17.
Murphy won the bronze medal in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
The road to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics for Murphy has been full of challenges but may have just been what he needed to thrust himself back on the world stage.
Over the last couple of years, it’s been a rollercoaster for Murphy trying to train during the COVID-19 pandemic while switching coaches; all while moving back across the country to Northeast Ohio from Oregon. All those changes added layers to everything else Murphy was trying to do.
But those changes would be crucial to his resurgence.
“So, it was in a sense like trying to ride a bike again going back to coach Lee Labadie and to my old training philosophies,” Murphy said. “I felt extremely comfortable with being able to reconnect with coach Labadie again and getting back on the bike and keep riding was easy for both of us. There is a sense of maturity and experience I can now bring to our relationship and our training philosophies. We have a more open dialogue, there is a lot more conversations and details that now goes into our training that we didn’t have in 2016 making this even more of a special relationship.”
Heading into the Olympic trials, there was a lot of talk about Donavan Brazier who was the 2020 World Champion and the American Record holder in the 800-meters. There was also a buzz around young Isaiah Jewett, who just won the NCAA 800-meters a week earlier at Heyward Field. It was almost like a foregone conclusion that Murphy would be fighting for third place to qualify for the Olympics by many of the experts.
All that served to help fuel Murphy’s inner drive.
“Going into the race I was a slight underdog and sort of slotted to finish in third position,” Murphy said. “A lot of the media focus was on other guys in the race so it’s kind of hard not to really notice those things, so obviously I felt like I could use that to improve my focus by putting it in my back pocket to create a chip on my shoulder using it as advantage verses letting it affect me negatively.”
Murphy finished in second place in the fourth heat of the 800 quarterfinals one spot behind Jewett to advance to the semi-finals. In the semi-finals, he finished in first place a step ahead of the favored Brazier to set-up the showdown in the finals.
In the 800 finals, Jewett pushed the pace hard jumping in front and making everyone chase him. Murphy stuck to running his race and after one lap was in the fifth spot but 20 meters off the lead.
Brazier then tried to close the gap jumping up to the second spot while Murphy began to break to the outside jumping into the fourth spot only to see Jewett push the pace even more at the 500-meter mark. Murphy upped his pace too and while trying to get by Bryce Hoppel, they bumped shoulders momentarily. However, he was able to spring ahead into the second position with 200 meters to go while Brazier dropped back into fourth place.
As they made the final turn with about 100 meters to go, Jewett still held a sizeable lead … but as many have come to know over the years, you can never count Murphy out with his amazing kick.
“Chasing Isaiah down the stretch was extremely tough, it was one of the toughest last 100 meters I’ve ever had to run, and I knew if I could kick it in to the finish line, I would make the team.” Murphy said.
Not only would Murphy kick it in catching Jewett with 40 meters to go, he would also fly by him to win it going away, crossing the finish line in an amazing 1:43.17 for the fastest time in the world this year.
“After I got by Jarrett I had no idea who was behind me, so I just wanted to leave it all out there to give myself an opportunity to be on the team and if I was able to win, I was able to win,” Murphy said.
“When I saw the time coming across the line it was such a relief, pure joy and a surge of excitement just overcame me in that moment,” Murphy added.
Murphy’s excitement was visible for all to see as he let out a huge scream and then struck a pose crossing his arms in defiance as to let everyone know he’s back.
Winning the race was important to Murphy for many reasons, but none more important than letting everyone know he belongs on the World Stage.
“I felt like I had to remind everyone who I am, it’s like I was being wrote off,” he said. “In my 2016 campaign, I was overshadowed by other competitors going into it and I had to prove myself then, I knew I belonged, so I figured why can’t I do it one more time 2021.”
Murphy is now headed back to the Olympics, this time in Tokyo. He knows he’ll have plenty of support back home from his many fans.
“The support I get back home is extremely special to me,” Murphy said. “The Facebook post, social media post, text messages, to see the race up on screens in the bars and on people’s TVs, in their backyards in their homes and even on vacation watching on their phones in restaurants, it’s so cool to see.”
“My phone, Instagram and social media has not slowed down for the last 24 hours and I’m super grateful and appreciative of everyone who messages me,” he said. “I try to loop back with as many people as possible but I’m sure I’ve missed many. I try to do my best to show that I really do appreciate it, even if it’s a quick text message or on Instagram because it truly is special to have the support from all the folks back home in New Madison and Darke County supporting me on this journey.”
The Tokyo Olympics will take place July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.