The whirlwind that enveloped Clayton Murphy after he captured an Olympic bronze medal hasn’t allowed the former University of Akron All-American to comprehend the magnitude of his achievement.
After he passed France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse with 50 meters to go in the 800-meter final and finished third at the Rio Games on Monday night, Murphy managed perhaps three hours of sleep because of a post-race drug test and media commitments.
Tuesday brought radio and television interviews with NBC outlets, including an appearance on Today, and social media responsibilities for Team USA. That evening he headed back to Rio Olympic Stadium to accept his medal and watch the rest of the track and field competition with his mother, Melinda, his girlfriend and UA distance and cross country coach Lee LaBadie.
On Wednesday, they toured the city’s botanical gardens and saw its beaches. His entourage also includes his father, Mark, and UA track and field coach Dennis Mitchell, accompanying former Zips pole vaulters Shawn Barber of Canada and Annika Roloff of Germany at the Games.
Murphy hasn’t had time to answer what as of Wednesday morning were 150 to 200 text messages and over 200 more on Facebook.
He’s enjoying the entire Olympic experience, walking in the opening ceremony, attending basketball and handball games and is staying for Sunday’s closing celebration.
One would think it could be too much for Murphy, a native of New Paris, Ohio, a tiny town in Southwest Ohio six miles from the Indiana border.
“I don’t think it’s overwhelming. It’s exciting,” Murphy said Wednesday during a conference call set up by USA Track and Field. “I’m taking it in stride. It’s a lot of fun to share my story.”
He didn’t mind when USA Today led its story on his third-place finish with his days raising show pigs on his family farm. His parents work for co-ops, Melinda buys grain, Mark fertilizer and feed. Murphy’s younger brother Wesley gave up baseball to pursue a career in livestock.
“It’s something I grew up doing,” Murphy said of the pigs. “My brother still lives on the farm and has animals. It’s part of my pastime and I love it.”
Murphy became the first American man to medal in the 800 meters since 1992, when Johnny Gray took bronze in Barcelona. Murphy’s personal-best time of 1:42.93 was the fifth fastest in American history, with Gray owning the top three.
“It was faster than what we theoretically trained for,” LaBadie said by phone Tuesday from Rio. “That’s why he’s such a fantastic competitor.
“He can get better. He’s 21. He has a number of years to improve. He can have eight to 10 years as a pro. Most of the 800 runners reach their peak somewhere between the ages of 24 and 27.”
Murphy followed in the footsteps of another Ohioan, Canton native and Bowling Green graduate Dave Wottle, who won gold in the 800 at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. At the U.S. Olympic Trials in July, Murphy met the now-retired Wottle, who went on to become a track coach and administrator at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.
“It wasn’t tactical racing or racing in general. A lot of it was life stuff,” Murphy said of their conversation. “A lot of experiences and laughter was shared.
“I think that helped going into the Olympics. He’s a very kind guy. Watching him race and win that gold in 1972 is something I look up to. He was a very patient runner … I feel like his racing style is reflected in mine. It’s cool to be part of that 800-meter club from Ohio.”
After turning pro and signing with Nike in June, Murphy will likely race again this year, with that to be finalized this week. Mitchell said by phone from Rio that Murphy could compete in the IAAF Diamond League. (Olympic 400-meter champion Wayde Van Niekerk just committed to the Sept. 1 race in Zurich.) Murphy earned $10,000 from the U.S. Olympic Committee for his bronze medal, although he could pay up to $4,000 in taxes.
On target to graduate in May, Murphy will return to UA for the Aug. 29 start of fall classes, although he’s already spoken to his instructors about missing some time to run again. Murphy hasn’t ruled out shooting for the double of the 800 and 1,500 meters at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but knows qualifying is no certainty.
“I don’t know if I really have expectations or have looked super far ahead,” Murphy said. “I’m kind of enjoying the moment. I know the target on my back — I kind of had it after [winning at] Trials, especially in the U.S. I’m going to embrace all the challenges that come with this. Just look at everything as having fun and challenging myself.”
Considering the fact that three years ago Tri-Village High School’s Murphy finished seventh in the 800 meters in the Division III state meet in a time of 1:56.66, Mitchell is savoring what the Zips’ unknown recruit just accomplished.
“That kid is just amazing,” Mitchell said Tuesday. “His kick and his ability … you have to put it in perspective. To be able to run that fast and get a two-second (personal record) 1:42… Just the fact that he’s sitting here right now on the world stage, out of six billion people he’s one of the top three in that event, it’s crazy.
“It’s a big deal because America has been looking for a great middle distance runner like him for a while.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.