BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Tri-Village alumnus Clayton Murphy added a national championship to his already illustrious résumé on Saturday, winning the NCAA 800 meters championship.
Murphy, a junior at the University of Akron, became the Zips’ seventh individual national champion when he won the 800 meter race in 1:46.68 at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
Murphy entered the race confident that he could contend for the championship though he simply wanted to put himself in contention to win.
“It’s pretty much an up-in-the-air race,” he said. “I had confidence that I could win, but I wasn’t locking myself in to win at all.”
He did win, besting the second and third place runners – Middle Tennessee State junior Eliud Rutto and BYU junior Shaquille Walker – by 0.13 seconds and 0.82 seconds, respectively.
Among those in attendance to see Murphy’s championship run were his parents, Mark and Melinda Murphy; Tri-Village cross country and track and field coach Scott Warren and some of his Akron teammates.
“It really made it special to have my family there and to have teammates to celebrate,” Murphy said.
The NCAA championship continued Murphy’s rise to national prominence in the running community.
Last summer something seemed to click, he said, as he finished fourth in the nation in the 800 meter run at USA Track & Field’s Track and Field Championship to earn a spot on the Team USA roster at the Pan American Games.
At the Pan American Games in Toronto, the first international competition of his career, Murphy won the gold medal with a time of 1:47.19. Following that he represented the United States at the North American, Central American and Caribbean Championships in San Jose, Costa Rica and then the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships in Beijing.
While his biggest wins – at the Pan American Games and NCAA championships – have come in the 800 meters, Murphy isn’t sure that’s even his best event.
“It’s just the way the 800 fell in the NCAA this year,” he said.
The Tri-Village graduate still is trying to decide if he’ll focus on the 800 meters or 1,500 meters during the NCAA’s outdoor season this spring. He’s had success in the longer distance, becoming Akron’s first athlete to break the four-minute-mile mark with a time of 3:57.11 at the 12th annual Akron Invitational on Feb. 6.
“That was cool, to be in front of the home crowd,” Murphy said. “The crowd was there. The team was there. Again my family was able to be there for me.”
Murphy currently is taking a slight break this week before ramping up his training for the outdoor season, which starts with the Raleigh Relays on March 25 and 26 in Raleigh, N.C.
“I can’t take a whole lot of time off,” he said.
During the outdoor season Murphy hopes to make the national championships and contend for another national title. He also wants to lead the Zips to the Mid-American Conference championship. They’ve won the MAC’s indoor championship all three years of Murphy’s college career but finished second to Eastern Michigan in the MAC’s outdoor championships the past two years.
And while the NCAA outdoor season is his next challenge, Murphy admits the upcoming Olympic trails remain in the back of his mind.
“It’s hard not have it in your mind,” he said. “It’s a big goal of mine to try to qualify for the Olympic team.”
Everything he’s done is building toward the Olympics, Murphy said, and now with a national championship to his name he’s getting closer and closer to that dream.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.