RIO ROUNDUP | Kick propels Akron's Clayton Murphy to 800m bronze

In one of the biggest surprises of Monday night, Clayton Murphy, 21, a rising junior at the Akron, won Olympic bronze in the men’s 800 for the U.S.’s first medal in the event since 1992.

Murphy, 21, is such an impressive unknown to people outside the sport that, in the hours after his medal win, his name was trending at No. 10 nationally on Twitter.

The short version: Murphy, who ran a 1:42.93 for the third-fastest 800 in U.S. history, grew up on a pig farm in Ohio. He is an excellent pig salesman, according to his father, who was interviewed for a story in Runner’s World magazine in July.

He trailed only Kenyan star Daniel Rudisha, who defended his 2012 title in 1:42.15 and Taofik Makhloufi of Algeria, who won silver in 1:42.61.

Murphy’s jaw-dropping kick caught France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse with less than 100 yards left for third.

Murphy first made a big-time splash when he won the 800 at last year’s Pan Am Games and then won the Olympic trials soon after signing a pro contract.
U.S. women's 8 continues dynasty on the water
Halfway through the 2,000-meter women’s eight race at the Rio Olympics on Saturday, the U.S. women’s boat — unbeaten in a remarkable 10 years — was in third, with Canada leading and the rest of a pesky six-boat field clinging to the favorites.

Until then, U.S. coxswain Katelin Snyder had been telling the women facing her to trust in each other and to follow each other. That was the game plan — pay no attention to what other boats were doing.

This was no time to panic, even if this was the first time in two years the U.S. boat was in a race this close.

“It’s not easy,” said Ithaca College grad Meghan Musnicki. “It obviously takes practice and time to trust in each other.”

Then, Snyder summoned their best by reminding them of their best.

“She told us ‘We’re the women’s eight. We’re Team USA,’” said Musnicki by phone from Rio, “and you could feel the boat…the boat took up out of the water even a little bit more.”

The U.S. women picked up their stroke rate, inching ahead of Canada and the rest of the field for the first time. Their lead kept growing. They had a decisive lead by 1,500 meters. Great Britain moved up to try to challenge. Canada faded.

Safely ahead, the U.S. team crossed the finish line to win its third-straight Olympic gold in six minutes, 1.49 seconds. Great Britain won silver in 6:03.98 and Romania took bronze in 6:04.10.

“It was a pretty phenomenal feeling,” said Musnicki, 33, one of just two returning from the crew that won gold in London’s 2012 Games.

Coach Tom Terhaar called the race “the highest quality ever” and the team “probably the toughest boat we’ve ever had.”

“All races are tough, and that was a really tough one, where everyone across the board stayed in it,” said Brown graduate Tessa Gobbo, who rowed the five seat. “I have never been shocked to be in a tough race; I am always a little shocked to be ahead. Just gotta keep your cool when you get an inch ahead.”

The U.S. women, whose one preliminary race in Rio had vaulted them straight to the final, had won every world championship and Olympic gold since 2006. They are rowing’s dynasty. Sports Illustrated called them “the most dominant team at the Games.”

Someone should tell NBC, which gave the race and the team short shrift by showing just a snippet of the race from Rio and not much more after.

Two days after the race, the team appeared — briefly — on NBC’s Today show at the Rio studio.

“We managed to get them to say that the U.S. rowing team was there, which was a step in the right direction,” said a wry Musnicki by phone from the team van after the appearance. “We got our 10 seconds of fame.”

Musnicki (below, fourth from right) said she is uncertain if she will return for Tokyo in 2020. She is considering attending grad school, possibly to become a physicians’ assistant.

Harvard's Stone rows to silver
Harvard graduate Gevvie Stone won silver in the women’s single sculls, her first Olympic medal after finishing seventh in the 2012 Games.

Stone posted a time of 7 minutes, 22.92 seconds, behind only Australia’s Kim Brennan in 7:21.54. China’s Duan Jingli took bronze in 7:24.13.

Since London, Stone somehow fit in her training while also completing the final two years of med school. She plans to apply for her medical residency soon.

“This couldn’t be a better way to go out,” Stone said. “It’s so funny, because they think, ‘Oh, the silver medalist must be so unhappy; they didn’t win gold,’ but I am so happy. I could not be happier. Kimmy (Brennan) has been on top, and to be so close to her and to get the silver medal is just amazing.”

Midway through the race, at about the 1,000-meter mark, she thought of her supporters — and the water — at home in Boston.

“In the thousand, I took a (hard) 20 (strokes) for the folks back home and realized how good I felt,” Stone said. “At that point, I felt like I was in a good place because my legs just were not feeling it yet. When we hit the cross-chop I could see everyone else feeling it, and I thought ‘Yes, this is Boston! This is what I want, rough water!’ So I think the middle five hundred was my jam.”

“This weather. This wind. This is classic Boston basin. We got some wind and some wake bounce, and I felt this is my thing. I can row through wakes.”

So she did.

U.S. men's 8 finish fourth
The U.S. men’s eight, which qualified for the Games in the last-ditch Regatta of Death in May, finished fourth behind gold medalist Great Britain, silver medalists Germany and the Netherlands, who won bronze in 5:31.59. The U.S. posted a time of 5:34.23 for fourth for the second-straight Olympics. At London in 2012, the U.S. finished out of the medals by three-tenths of a second.

The 2016 team included Harvard alum Mike DiSanto, Princeton’s Glenn Ochal, Stephen Kasprzyk of Drexel and Cornell’s Alex Karwoski. The crew had hoped for better after coming back from an early loss to win their repechage.

“Credit to Great Britain, Germany and the Dutch,” said Karwoski. “It was a good race by them. We didn’t have it today. It’s disappointing, but that’s why you race.”

DiSanto said the U.S. team didn’t have its best day.

“This is the big league,” said DiSanto, in his first Olympics. “You need to have your best race on the day. Unfortunately, not for lack of effort, we didn’t do that. There is no room for error. This is the pinnacle of the sport.”

Merritt wins bronze in 400m
Former East Carolina and Old Dominion track star LaShawn Merritt saw there was little he could do but wrap history in a hug Sunday night

Merritt finished third in the 400-meter race won by 24-year-old Wayde Van Niekerk, who stunningly broke Michael Johnson’s world record 43.18 seconds, set in 1999. Granada’s Kirani James won silver in 43.76, while Merritt posted a time of 43.85.

Van Niekerk, from South Africa, ran a time of 43.03 seconds to take down a mark few thought would be touched for decades. Showing a remarkable second 200 that stunned even Johnson, commentating on the race for TV, van Niekerk topped an all-star field including

“That was a massacre,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen, from 200 to 400, anything like that.”

Merritt qualified easily in the U.S. Olympic trials. When the race was over in Rio, all Merritt could do was shake his head after hugging Van Niekerk.

Southern Miss alum Bowie takes 100m silver
Also on the track, sprinter Tori Bowie of won Olympic silver in the women’s 100-meter dash, finishing between two Jamaican legends-in-the-making. Elaine Thompson won gold in 10.71 seconds, followed by Bowie’s 10.83 and two-time defending Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce took bronze in 10.86.

Princeton’s Johnson helps U.S. to water polo semis
Ashleigh Johnson, who took a leave from Princeton to train for the Games, is playing a huge role as the long-armed, athletic goalie for the top-ranked U.S. water polo team as it tries for repeat gold in Rio.

In Monday’s quarterfinals, Johnson had six saves to help the U.S. defeat Brazil, 13-3, and run its win streak to 20 games. The U.S. team’s combined score in four games in Rio is 47-16.

The Americans next face Hungary, which rallied to beat Australia to reach the semifinals for the third-consecutive Olympics. The U.S. defeated Hungary, 11-5, in preliminary play on Sunday.

UCF's Dalhausser out of beach volleyball
UCF alum Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, beach volleyball’s No. 3 seeds, lost their quarterfinal match to No. 1 seeds Brazilians Alison and Bruno Schmidt, 21-14, 12-21, 15-9 in a matchup expected to take place in the finals.

But the Schmidts lost early in pool play, and Dalhausser and Lucena’s seed meant an earlier tangle for top teams. Dalhausser won the 2008 gold medal with teammate Todd Rogers.

Columbia's Prescod 10th in foil
Columbia University graduate Nzinga Prescod, the foil fencer, was 10th in her second Olympics. She placed 22nd in the 2012 Games but a third-place finish at the 2015 world championships vaulted her to Olympic-medal-contender status in Rio.

Prescod, 24, beat Mexico’s Nataly Michel in the first elimination bout, 15-9, but lost to France’s Astrid Guyart, 15-11 after building a 7-3 lead early against the five-time world team medalist. Prescod said she had a good draw.

"It's not like I feel uncomfortable fencing her ... but it didn't pan out the way I wanted it to," she said.

Prescod sounded as if she might retire from the sport.

"I don't know if I'm going to keep fencing, so this was potentially my last competition," she said.

ASN notables
• In men’s rugby sevens Olympic debut, Dartmouth’s Madison Hughes captained the U.S. team that defeated Spain, 24-12 to finish ninth of 12 teams.

• Courtney Frerichs finished 11th in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase Monday with a time of 9:22.87. She is the first Missouri-Kansas City grad to compete in the Olympics.

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