EUGENE, OREGON – As he entered the final 100 meters of Monday’s race, Tri-Village alumnus and New Paris resident Clayton Murphy realized his dream of becoming an Olympian was about to become true.
The 2013 Tri-Village graduate won the 800 meter run at the USA Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, to earn one of the United States’ three spots at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in the event along with Boris Berian and Charles Jock.
“It’s something I’ll never forget for sure,” he said by phone Tuesday afternoon.
Murphy, who turned professional last month and signed with Nike after winning the NCAA national championship in the 1,500 meters, focused on the 800 meters in the Olympic Trials because he previously had achieved the Olympic qualifying standard in that event. That turned out to be a great choice for the former University of Akron star.
He was eighth out of nine runners at the halfway point in Monday’s race but as the runners entered the home stretch Murphy displayed a finishing kick that’s become his signature. At that point, he said, he knew his goal of finishing in the top three and qualifying for the Olympics would come true.
What he didn’t realize is that he would win the championship in a personal-best time of 1:44.76. It was cool to win, the 21-year-old runner said, but the goal all along simply was to finish in the top three and qualify for the Olympics.
“That’s a goal that most runners have, most people in athletics have in any sport,” he said of making the Olympics.
Murphy’s goal of qualifying for the Olympics became more and more of a possibility over the course of the last year. Last summer he finished fourth overall in the 800 meters at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships.
He then went on to win gold at the Pan American Games in Toronto, won silver at the North America Central America Caribbean Association in San Jose, Costa Rica, and then represented the United States at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships in Beijing.
“The goal has become more of a reality as of late,” Murphy said.
When the goal finally became a reality, Murphy, the son of Mark and Melinda Murphy, had numerous friends and family in Eugene to celebrate with including his parents, grandparents and girlfriend. The best part of the whole Olympic-qualifying experience was during the victory lap when he got to see his loved ones, he said.
“It was cool having everybody around me all weekend,” Murphy said. “It’s been cool to kind of enjoy the moment with them.”
Murphy currently is working to finalize plans for his family to travel to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro so they can watch him run.
Murphy’s first race in Rio will be the morning of Aug. 12. The 800 meter semifinals are scheduled for the evening of Aug. 13, and the finals are set for Aug. 15. Murphy’s top goal in Rio is to run well enough in the first two rounds to qualify for the finals and then see what happens.
“You never really know what to expect,” he said.
To prepare for the Olympics Murphy will travel back to Akron to train with Akron cross country coach Lee LaBadie. The physical preparations will remain the same over the course of the next month, Murphy said, but the mental preparation might be a little different as he prepares to compete against the world’s best runners.
And while Murphy is focused on preparing for the Olympics, he wants to make sure he takes time to enjoy the experience as well. Being just 21 years old, the 2020 games in Tokyo remain a future goal, but he knows this might be his only chance to compete in the Olympics.
Murphy will be in Rio for the opening ceremonies and hopes to watch some other Olympic events in the week prior to track and field beginning. Even though Brazil has faced negative attention including Zika virus, pollution and security concerns, Murphy said he feels confident he’ll be safe as long as he follows the safety protocols.
“Wow! What a great thing for Clayton,” commented Akron head track and field coach Dennis Mitchell. “What a great honor for Akron. Clayton ran a very smart, well thought out race. He did everything according to plan. However, you can’t just plan your way to victory, you have to have speed and mostly a big heart and his heart is enormous. Big, huge props to coach LaBadie, he is the mastermind. He may be the best middle-distance coach in the country.”
“What an athlete,” said Akron head cross country and distance coach Lee LaBadie. “I’m so proud of what Clayton has been able to accomplish.”