Clayton Murphy Returns to the Top in Thrilling 800m Olympic Trials Win

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EUGENE — Maybe Clayton Murphy read this preview and noticed there was no mention of him. The Olympic bronze medalist sat down with reporters through a virtual mixed zone at Hayward Field after delivering a reminder of why he won this same race just five years ago and should not have been discounted from the start.

USC’s NCAA champion Isaiah Jewett, who was in his fifth race in 10 days, took out the race in 50.6 for the first lap and attempted to hold on for the win. Murphy hung back and started pressing with 200 meters to go and passed Jewett with less than 100 meters to go for the win in 1:43.17. He never turned back to see who was behind him. He looked out into the crowd and crossed his arms.

Clayton Murphy reacts after winning the 800m in 1:43.17 during the USA Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field.

Clayton Murphy reacts after winning the 800m in 1:43.17 during the USA Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field.

Just earlier in the day, Murphy looked at himself in the mirror before leaving the hotel and crossed his arms. As a fan of Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé and after watching Max Verstappen’s win the French Grand Prix, he had seen both pose in the same way after their respective victories.

His wife, 2016 Olympian Ariana Murphy, caught him and asked what he was doing. He told her, “I think this might be my celebration if I win. I gotta win but this might be it.”

Reigning world champion and American record holder Donavan Brazier was widely considered the favorite to become the first American to win an Olympic 800m gold medal since Dave Wottle came from behind for the win while wearing a hat at the 1972 Games in Munich. Murphy beat him in the semifinal and blew past him with 200 meters remaining in the race.

“I like to read things and see what’s being said out there and one of the things being said was that I was one of many to make the team along with Bryce (Hoppel) and Donavan (Brazier),” Murphy said. “I was in this second tier group and I kind of liked that. I like having a little bit of a chip on my shoulder or that doubt. I took it to heart a little bit.”

For Murphy, his journey back to the top of American middle distance running has been a total reconstruction. A year after his medal, he attempted to double in the 800 and 1,500 meters at the U.S. Championships and failed to make the team in either event. In 2019, he finished eighth at the world championships, but his coach Alberto Salazar was banned for four years from the sport for an anti-doping violation. He decided to head back to Akron, Ohio and reunite with his college coach, Lee LaBadie. Injuries happened and the pandemic pushed the Olympics back a year, which allowed him time to make a full recovery and make this team.

“We are sporting a pretty damn good team,” Murphy said. “There are obviously extremely tough competitions throughout every country. A world-leading time points a pretty big bullseye on my back.”

Other notable news from Day 4

  • Vermont's Elle Purrier St. Pierre nearly fell in the first 100 meters of the women’s 5,000 meters but once she took the lead, she never surrendered it and won in record-setting fashion in 3:58.03. Former Florida All-American Cory McGee and Heather MacLean notched personal bests of 4:00.67 and 4:02.09 for second and third place, respectively. All three are first-time Olympians.
  • In the women’s 5,000 meters, Elise Cranny closed the 12.5-lap race with a 63.73-second last lap to make her first Olympic team in 15:27.81. Her Bowerman Track Club teammate Karissa Schweizer took second in 15:28.11. Rachel Schneider rounded out the podium to make her first Olympic team in 15:29.56.
  • Sam Kendricks will return to the Olympics, where he looks to improve upon his bronze medal from 2016. Since Rio, Kendricks won world championship gold medals in 2017 and 2019. However, he faces the task of trying to defeat world record holder Mondo Duplantis. Since September 2019, 21-year-old Duplantis was on a winning streak up until Kendricks beat him in cold and rainy conditions at the Gateshead Diamond League on May 23.
  • Will Claye won his first U.S. title in the triple jump since the 2017 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Claye won silver medals in the triple jump at the 2016 and 2012 Olympics behind American record holder, two-time Olympic champion and four-time world champion Christian Taylor. However, Claye will be the favorite for gold in Tokyo because Taylor ruptured his Achilles at a meet in Austria in May.
  • The United States is looking for a new steeplechase champion at the Olympic Trials after Olympic silver medalist and world champion Evan Jager announced he will not compete due to a calf injury. The first round was held on Monday and Isaac Updike of New York City’s Empire Elite Track Club posted the fastest time of the day in 8:21.01.