BEST OF 2016 | Finishing kick propelled Akron's Clayton Murphy to 800m bronze
In one of the biggest surprises of Monday night, Clayton Murphy, 21, a rising junior at the University of Akron, won Olympic bronze in the men’s 800 for the U.S.’s first medal in the event since 1992.
“It’s hard not to be happy,” Murphy said. “I didn’t go into the race caring about time; I was racing the people. I told my coach that I didn’t care what I went out in. I was going to go out there and I got to the rail early like I wanted to, stayed there and kept hanging there. I was just racing the people.
“When I came around the corner, I saw three guys in front of me. I kept wanting to push. At that point, I knew I was top five and that was exciting. I kept turning over and turning over and my legs were there. When I saw I could get bronze, I just kept pushing. I wasn’t sure if I could get silver or not, but I was super excited to have that little last gear the last 50 meters.”
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.
“How sweet it was for Clayton,” said Akron coach Dennis Mitchell. “That classic kick came through again. It looked like he was way out of the medals around the last turn. Then, there goes Clayton again. What a crazy time he ran as well. He is the classic example that you “ever give up”and you go all the way hard through the finish line. What a sweet moment for the Zips. Akron now has a world champion and an Olympic medalist, who would have thought of that two years ago?”
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.
Above: Clayton Murphy is the first American to win a medal in the 800 meters since Johnny Gray in 1992. (Courtesy U.S. Olympic Team via Twitter)