PORTLAND, Ore. – Clayton Murphy’s frenzied life, which included an NCAA national championship and forgoing his final collegiate season to turn pro just this week, is only going to get busier over the course of the next month.
Murphy, a 2013 Tri-Village graduate, won the national championship in the 1,500 meter run at the NCAA track and field championships on Friday at the University of Oregon. Two days later he announced his decision to become a professional runner and also won the 1,500 meters at the Portland Track Festival in a time of 3:36.23, just three one-hundredths of a second shy of the automatic Olympic mark.
While he thought this past weekend was the right time to turn pro, it wasn’t an easy decision and he spent a lot of time talking with his parents and coaches about the choice.
“It’s tough because I only have four years to be a collegiate athlete and I’m forgoing one of those years,” said Murphy, who just finished his junior year at the University of Akron.
Murphy’s final weekend competing as an Akron Zip culminated with his second national championship. Earlier this year he won the NCAA indoor national championship in the 800 meters.
“To know that I won the indoor 800 and outdoor 1,500 is pretty cool to say I’m the national champion in two different events,” he said.
He spent most of Friday’s national championship race running with Versailles alumnus Sam Prakel, an Oregon runner who finished fifth in the nation in the event with a time of 3:40.84, seconds behind Murphy’s 3:36.38 – the third-fastest time in NCAA Championship history and quickest since 1987.
“That was cool,” Murphy said. “That was our first track race since high school. It took three years and the national championship to bring us into the same race.”
In the final 200 meters Murphy raced past Prakel and the rest of the field, winning the race by almost two seconds over the University of Washington’s Izaic Yorks who finished in second place with a time of 3:38.06.
While Murphy’s signature kick late in the race made him appear to easily cruise past his competitors, it wasn’t that easy, he said.
“It was tough to run away from them,” Murphy said. “It wasn’t easy.”
In the days after his national championship victory, Murphy considered his options. He decided becoming a professional now gave him the best opportunities leading to the United States Olympic Trials, which will be held July 1-10 in Eugene, Oregon.
“I felt like Sunday evening was kind of the right time to make the decision and turn professional,” said Murphy, who collected $1,000 for his first professional victory in Portland.
Murphy is spending the week in Portland sightseeing and preparing for his next race on Saturday in Seattle. He’ll race the 1,500 meters again and try to achieve the Olympic standard.
If he doesn’t get the Olympic standard, he’ll turn his focus back to the 800 meters for the US Olympic Trials. If he does achieve it, he’ll have to decide if he wants to pursue the 800 meters, 1,500 meters or both with the goal of competing for Team USA at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this summer in Brazil.
“It’s an honor and I’m super excited to come back in three weeks to race those guys and see what happens,” Murphy said of the Olympic Trials.
Every decision Murphy has made since last summer when he won gold in the 800 meter run with a time of 1:47.19 at the Pan American Games in Toronto and represented the United States at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Track and Field Championships in Beijing, China, has been centered on July’s Olympic Trials.
As a professional athlete he and his coaches will be able to set his own schedule, which again will be focused on preparing him for the Olympics. He’s going to remain at the University of Akron over the next year and train with Akron cross country coach Lee LaBadie as he works toward his bachelor’s degree, which he anticipates finishing next May.
Presently Murphy’s representatives at Doyle Management Group, which represents top track and field athletes from across the country such as Ashton Eaton, Christian Taylor and Lolo Jones, is negotiating a shoe deal for him. Murphy said he’s leaving the negotiations to his agents but anticipates having a deal in the next week or so.
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.