PIQUA – Although French Toast might rank among his favorite morning go-to meals, 21-year-old Clayton Murphy could conceivably find his photo plastered on the front of a Wheaties “Breakfast of Champions” box this week.
The University of Akron senior is competing in the 800-meter track and field event as part of the 2016 Rio Olympics. His patience, methodical thinking and results-driven approach to running, admits his proud father, Mark Murphy, of Piqua, could result in a coveted gold medal. The younger Murphy will be among an estimated 50 runners from throughout the world vying for top honors in the 800-meter event. Preliminaries get underway at 9 a.m. on Friday followed by semis and finals, all broadcast on NBC Sports Network.
In recent weeks, Clayton’s dad has been congratulated by well-wishers, many of whom have never met his son. Along the well-manicured cul-de-sac where he lives in Piqua, signs abound in the Murphy yard reading, “Go Clayton … Rio Bound,” “Going for Gold” and “Murphy Team USA.”
Most recently, the elder Murphy and his “special friend” Christal Ford were frequenting 311 Drafthouse when he noticed another patron, Trenton Spradley, sporting a golf hat promoting the Olympic trials, which took place in July in Eugene, Ore., attended by both Mark and Christal.
Coincidentally, Spradley had even acquired Clayton’s autograph after the track phenom had dramatically come from behind in the nine-man field to win the 800-meter event. Clayton beat out frontrunner Boris Berian, using his trademark kick to win the event in 1:44.76. Together with Berian and Charles Jock, Clayton hopes to end a U.S. 24-medal drought in Rio.
Spradley reportedly told Clayton’s dad he was a former runner competing against his son during his high school days, but quickly added he “ran from behind.” Because of social media’s prominence, Spradley expressed how he’d like to become “friends” with Clayton on Facebook. Within minutes after a text from his father, Clayton obliged and the newest fan yelled, “He (Clayton) accepted me…he’s now my friend”.
The younger Murphy arrived in Rio this past week and has reportedly been taking in the sights of the picturesque South American coastal community including the USA vs. China basketball game, marching in the Olympic opening ceremony, where he was spotted by his father, and making new friends with golfer Rickie Fowler. He shares an apartment with a fellow runner from New York who, with other track stars, train 2 1/2 hours daily doing reps in the morning or running between three and five miles on off-days.
The six-foot, 160-pound track star, who is majoring in corporate finance, has been athletically motivated since his childhood days in Darke County. He and his brother, Wesley, grew up in a rural setting where farm chores such as feeding pigs and cleaning stalls were the norm. Clayton, notes his father, took up running in seventh grade, but was a phenomenal soccer player as well. As one of 50 graduates of Tri-Village High School in New Madison, he earned state honors as the 1,600-meter champion and later went to the University of Akron on a full scholarship, where he has amassed numerous honors including Division I All-American and NCAA champion at both the 800-meter indoors and 1,500 meters outdoors. In addition, he has won the 1,500-meter gold at the Pam Am Games in Toronto.
His face is becoming familiar among numerous fans as he was photographed in the July 23 issue of Sports Illustrated showing the trials race in Oregon when he overcame Berian.
Mark, and Christal are scheduled to leave Tuesday for Rio, where they hope to be reunited with the track sensation Wednesday evening at the Olympic Village. Besides cheering Clayton to a possible victory, they also hope to take in several sporting events including beach volleyball, swimming, gymnastics and a track event featuring Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.
Mark Murphy, who is employed by Harvestland Co-op with offices in Covington and Lena, is proud of his son, who began showing pigs at 4 years of age at the North American Livestock Show in Louisville. Besides his sports prowess, the younger Murphy has been an avid 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) member throughout his growing up years in Darke County.
Clayton’s “tactical” approach to each race, suggests his father, could garner him a medal at week’s end. His self-confidence, tenacity and mantra, “Records can be broken, but championships cannot be taken away,” give him a realistic chance of bringing home the gold.
“If he makes it to the final race,” added Mark, “he’ll medal.”
Sharon Semanie is a journalist and longtime Piqua resident. She can be reached at [email protected]