DARKE COUNTY – Just three years ago Clayton Murphy finished seventh in the 800 meters at the Ohio High School Athletic Division III state track and field meet.
Today the 2013 Tri-Village graduate has gone from seventh best in Ohio to third best in the world, winning a bronze medal in the men’s 800 meter run at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Murphy credits his quick rise onto the world stage to the support of his family, friends and coaches.
“I think it’s just the support staff I have has been great,” Murphy said by phone Wednesday afternoon from Rio de Janeiro.
Murphy’s rise began during his sophomore year of high school when he finished 18th at the 2010 OHSAA Division III state cross country meet with a time of 16:11.9.
The following spring he teamed up with classmates Craig Harrison and Seth Thomas plus then-senior Colby Morris to finish 14th in the 4×800 meter relay at the Division III state track and field meet. Murphy also competed individually in the 3,200 meter run, earning a spot on the podium as he finished eighth in 9:55.82.
Murphy continued to improve as a junior and earned a spot on the podium at the state cross country meet, finishing sixth in Division III with a time of 15:53.35. Fellow Darke County athlete Samuel Prakel of Versailles won that race in 15:19.34.
In track and field Murphy earned yet another podium finished by finishing fourth in the 1,600 meter run in a time of 4:16.81 as a junior. He also competed in the 800 meter run, the event he earned an Olympic medal in on Monday, but finished 15th with a time of 2:05.49.
Murphy improved even more as a senior and finished fourth at the Division III state cross country meet in a time of 15:32.45, again seeing Prakel win a state championship with a time of 15:16.62.
As a senior, Murphy qualified for the state track and field meet in three events. Along with sophomore Jacob Metzcar plus fellow seniors Andrew Willcox and Harrison, Murphy earned a 14th place finish in the 4×400 meter relay.
Murphy then won the Division III state championship in the 1,600 meter run with a meet record time of 4:11.72, claiming his lone OHSAA state championship.
Murphy’s final high school race was the 800 meter run, finishing seventh in a time of 1:56.66.
After completing his high school career that included Tri-Village records in the 400 meters, 800 meters, 1,600 meters, 3,200 meters, 5K, 4×200 relay and 4×400 relay, Murphy joined the University of Akron cross country and track and field teams.
Murphy led the Zips in his first three collegiate cross country meets en route to earning second team all-Mid-American Conference honors.
During the indoor track and field season he won the MAC championship in the mile and broke the Akron record in the event three times. He also finished as the runner up in the 3K at the MAC championships.
He won his second conference title as a freshman at the MAC’s outdoor track and field meet in the 1,500 meters. Later that year he made the finals of the 1,500 meter run at the USA Junior Championships.
As a college sophomore Murphy earned first team all-MAC honors in cross country by finishing fourth at the league meet.
For the first time in his career he earned all-American honors during the indoor track and field season by finishing third in the 800 meters at the NCAA Championships, finishing in a school record time of 1:47.06. He also won the MAC’s indoor 800 meter and mile championships, earning Outstanding Track Athlete of the Meet honors.
His tremendous sophomore year continued during the outdoor portion of the track and field season. Murphy won MAC championships in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters. He also finished third in the NCAA championships in the 800 meters with a time of 1:49.52, earning all-American honors for a second time.
Prior to his junior season Murphy fourth in the nation in the 800 meter run at the 2015 USA Track & Field Championships. With his performance Murphy earned an invitation to compete for the United States at the Pan-American Games in July in Toronto, the first international competition of his career. Murphy won a gold medal at the Pan-American Games, finishing his 800 meter race in 1:47.19.
After winning silver at The North American, Central American and Caribbean Championships in San Jose, Costa Rica, Murphy was selected to represent the United States at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Track and Field Championships in Beijing, China. He replaced United States national champion Nicholas Symmonds, the 800 meter runner up at the 2013 world championships, who was left off the United States’ 2015 world championship roster after a dispute with USA Track and Field about uniform sponsorships.
Murphy advanced to the semifinals at the 2015 world championships, finishing sixth in his semifinal race with a time of 1:46.28, ending his track and field season.
After returning to Akron, Murphy again garnered first team all-MAC honors during the 2015 cross country season.
During the indoor track and field season Murphy won MAC championships in the 800 meters and mile, being named the MAC’s Most Outstanding Track Performer for a second consecutive season. He also ran his first sub-four-minute mile in 3:57.11.
At the NCAA indoor national championships, Murphy won the 800 meter championship in 1:46.68 – his first national championship and Akron’s first national championship in a running event.
Murphy was undefeated during the 2016 spring season in the 800 meters, 1,500 meters and 3,000 meters. He earned three MAC championships in the 800 meters, 1,500 meters and 4×400 meter relay.
The Tri-Village alumnus went on to win the national championship in the 1,500 meter run at the NCAA outdoor national championships and then announced he was forgoing his final season of collegiate eligibility to become a professional runner.
Murphy went on to the USA Track and Field Olympic Trials in the 800 meters and won the national championship to earn a spot on the United States Olympic team. He was eighth at the midpoint of the race but used a strong kick to win the race in personal-best time of 1:44.76.
Representing the United States at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the 21-year-old Murphy began his first Olympic experience with a fourth place finish in his preliminary heat. He was outside of automatic qualifying position, but his time of 1:46.18 was good enough to advance him into the semifinals.
Murphy finished second in his semifinal heat behind world record holder David Rudisha of Kenya with a new personal-best time of 1:44.30 to advance to the final of the 800 meters.
Murphy set yet another personal best in the Olympic final on Monday, finishing in 1:42.93 to earn a bronze medal. It was the United States’ first medal in the men’s 800 meter run since Johnny Gray won bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics – two-and-a-half years before Murphy was born.
Now an Olympic medalist, Murphy is getting ready for his senior year at Akron. He anticipates graduating in May.
Murphy will continue running the 800 meters and 1,500 meters. He hopes to compete at the 2020 Olympics in one of or possibly both of the events.
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.