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He actually cringes a little when he talks about it.

808Murphy3
Clayton Murphy

“I got reserve champion hog and I was showman of showmen multiple times at the county fair and I had the reserve champion carcass at the State Fair. The best pig I ever had was a Duroc. I won the class and went back for the re-weigh and was over by half a pound,” said Clayton Murphy. “I never had the champion.”

That, however, has not been the case since Murphy switched his focus from showing hogs to running track and cross country. Just since 2015, 21-year-old Murphy stood atop the podium numerous times as the 800-meter gold medalist at the Pan American Games, 2016 NCAA Indoor 800-meter champion, and the 2016 NCAA Outdoor 1,500-meter champion. Then, on July 4, the unassuming University of Akron student made some waves when he won the 800-meter race at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Murphy was not the favorite in the Olympic Trials and most experts had him on the bubble for making the U.S.A. Track & Field Team. Halfway through the two-lap race, Murphy was near the back of the pack before making an explosive move on the outside rounding the last turn to shock his competitors and secure his place in the Rio Olympics this month. The top three finishers who run faster than the qualifying time of 1:46 make the team. Murphy’s first place 1:44.76 did the trick, making him a world-class runner and an Olympian.

“I don’t think I was necessarily everyone’s favorite going into the race, but training was going really well leading up to it. The first two rounds were good for qualifying and doing what I needed to do. I was eight of nine at one point in the final and that wasn’t necessarily in the game plan. To win the race was cool, but the goal was to be in the top three. I think a lot of people were thinking I would be borderline for the top three,” Murphy said. “I have built my race around running the last 100 meters fast. That has become my thing. It is not easy because you have to time it just right. It comes from experience from knowing my body and knowing my training.”

The dedication to his running has roots in the hog barn. When growing up in Darke County, Murphy knew that when his parents would leave for work on a hot summer day, they would never know if he did not walk his show pigs.

“We learned a lot about responsibility waking up to take care of livestock, getting everything done in the barn and walking the pigs. We didn’t have to go walk the pigs every day, but if we didn’t do it, it would show up on show day,” Murphy said. “I feel like there are a lot of things many people don’t realize that go into showing pigs. If I don’t run, it is the same thing. We learned a lot of responsibility showing pigs and there are a lot of similarities, but I think I would have to be the only one on the U.S track team that used to show hogs.”


All started in show ring
While he is not showing hogs any more, the competitive fires initially fueled in the show ring (and the lessons he learned while preparing for it) have propelled Murphy to the international stage in his running career. His love of competition carried over into athletics and Murphy eventually settled on running as his sport of choice at Tri-Village High School.

“I started cross-country and track in junior high because it was the thing to do with friends and it was fun. Every year my running took a leap in progression and my junior year I switched from pigs to a focus on running. Our Tri-Village home course in cross country was a cow pasture with two creeks running through it. You had to dodge cow patties and run through the creeks. It was true cross country,” he said. “We didn’t race a lot of big schools. We ran against other farm kids. I wasn’t running super fast times but I was competitive whether I was showing pigs, playing basketball or running. That small school competition let me thrive and really develop as a runner. To get started, you need to have fun and compete and that is why I was successful.”

As it became more apparent that he was a gifted runner, Murphy pushed himself harder to excel.

“I had loops running around the big country blocks. You learned to avoid the busy state roads. It was nice to go run with no stoplights or stops signs and that helped. The country was a nice place to run,” he said. “Our part of Darke County is rolling and there was a large progressive hill not far from my house. There were enough rolling hills that I was able to do a lot of training up and down. I had to have the work ethic to do stuff on my own. My coach was good and we worked together to develop workouts, but he didn’t have experience with working with a state-caliber runner. I did a lot of work-outs on my own and that relationship with my coach really motivated me to push myself to do better.”

His legs got faster and times got lower. Murphy broke the Division 3 state record in the 1600 Meter Run at the 2013 high school state track meet in Columbus with a time of 4:11.72.

“I decided I wanted to go to college and run. I got a scholarship wanted to go to school for engineering and that was why I picked Akron,” he said. “And it was 3.5 hours from home — close enough that if I need to go home I can and it is far enough away that Mom can’t just drop in for dinner.”

His Mom (and other family members) will be making the trip to Rio to cheer him on. His parents have really enjoyed watching Clayton accomplish so much.

“He has always been very competitive. He didn’t like to lose pig shows and he didn’t like to lose races in high school. It is OK to be competitive but it is also OK to lose. He was very good all the way through junior high and high school and the other kids watched how he reacted to winning and losing. Sportsmanship helps you handle the injuries and the losses,” said Melinda Murphy, Clayton’s mother and a grain originator for Trupointe Cooperative. “He is very much of a team player too. When he’d win a cross country meet he’d turn around and go to help the last few kids on the team back through the course. You can still see that now. He is very proud of what he does, but he is more proud to represent the United States and his teammates. He is very excited to be a part of that.”

In college, Murphy really blossomed and took his running to the next level.

“I won NCAA indoor then won NCAA outdoor. I was progressing well and thought it was time to take the next step. I made the decision to forego my eligibility to turn pro after the NCAA race in June,” Murphy said. “You sign with an agent who negotiates contracts on your behalf. It is different than any other pro sport because you are still an amateur, but you are getting the endorsement. My agent negotiated contracts with shoe companies and Nike was the highest bidder and I felt like that was good fit. Now I run wearing Nike apparel. I may be in marketing campaigns and meet with people sometimes, but basically I wear Nike when I am running.”

Murphy’s Olympic races are on Aug. 12 (preliminary), Aug. 13 (semi-finals) and the final is on Aug. 15. He is staying through the closing ceremonies on Aug. 21. He is considered a potential medalist.

“I am focused on what I need to do but I will have to deal with some of the issues in Rio, like drinking bottled water and not wandering off into downtown Rio with friends and staying in the Olympic village. I just need to be smart and safe about things and everything will be fine,” he said. “I am just doing the 800 in this Olympics. I think I will likely eventually move up to the 1500 and stay between the 1500 and 800.”

Then, after the Olympics, Murphy is headed to Europe for more races.

“After the Olympics I go from Rio to race in Switzerland, Paris and Brussels,” Murphy said. “That is the plan as of now. After that I plan to focus on school and the last seven classes I need to graduate.”

With school behind him, he will continue to focus on his running career.

“A lot of middle distance runners retire around 32. Hopefully I can at least have a 10-year career,” he said.

Moving forward, Murphy is proud to represent his country, his home state, Darke County and Ohio agriculture on the international stage.

“I don’t know when it will really set in. I booked my flight and so I started to realize what I am doing. I am just trying to enjoy the experience right now,” he said. “Everything has been a roller coaster. I am not getting too stressed about things and I am trying to have fun with it. Obviously a goal is to run fast at the Olympics, but another goal is to really try to enjoy the whole experience.”

(Matt Reese is the editor for Ohio’s Country Journal. For more from Reese, visit ocj.com.)

 

 

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