Archdeacon: Murphy disappointed, but says, ‘it’s far from over’

Watch parties across Ohio celebrate Tri-Village grad, who places last in the 800 final.

PIQUA — When the Kenyan — instead of the favorite son — won the race, it was only natural that the moment briefly outran the meaning of it all.

» PHOTOS: Clayton Murphy through the years

Early Wednesday morning nearly three dozen people — neighbors, relatives, farmer friends who work with him — all gathered at the Piqua home of Mark Murphy and his wife Christal.

Mark’s son Clayton — who grew up on the family farm outside of New Madison where his mom, Melinda, still lives; who graduated from Tri-Village High and who won a bronze medal in the 800 meters at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics — was running in the 800-meter final at the Tokyo Games on Wednesday (early morning in Piqua/evening in Japan.)

Overcoming a hamstring injury eight days before the Olympic Trials in Oregon in late June, Clayton had triumphed in stirring fashion there to win the right to represent the United States.

And he had looked good in his initial heat race and the semifinal in Tokyo. He was the only medal winner in the final and, in fact, he is the only American to have made the Olympic podium in the 800 since Johnny Gray won bronze at the Barcelona Games way back in 1992.

Wednesday morning, six signs showing support for Clayton lined the front lawn of Mark’s Ridgeview Court home. Red, white and blue bunting hung above the porch. Inside, the kitchen counters were filled with food, out back the patio was decorated with flags and photos of Clayton after he’d won big races.

In the middle of all that was a brand new TV with a “no-glare screen,” Mark said proudly. He had just bought it for the gathering.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan had allowed no visitors to attend the Games. Athletes couldn’t bring their support staffs either, which meant, at this very moment, another watch party was going on in northeast Ohio.

It included Clayton’s wife of 20 months, Ariana Washington — the Los Angeles-raised sprinter who ran in the 4x100-meter relay for the U.S. in Rio and was part of the gold medal-winning relay at the 2017 World Championships in London.

His former University of Akron coach and now personal coach, Lee LaBadie, was with her, as were his strength coach, masseuse and the college friends and others who helped him train once he moved back to Ohio following the 2019 implosion of the Nike team he had ventured off to following Rio.

Credit: Tom Archdeacon

Credit: Tom Archdeacon

Conversely, Clayton’s mom wanted to watch the finals alone back at the farm. With her, it’s about tradition and superstition and concentration.

“It’s worked so far so why change it?” she said. " I just don’t like watching it around people I know.”

It was different in Piqua.

Clayton’s grandmother, Wilma Murphy, was there as was his uncle Chris with his family from Fayetteville.

A couple of the farmers Mark works with in his job as a marketing sales specialist for a fertilizer and seed co-op – Co-Alliance out of Avon, Indiana — were there. So was a guy wearing a T-shirt that read: “Beef is what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Credit: Tom Archdeacon

Credit: Tom Archdeacon

Dale Circle — whose family has a 3,000-acre, three-generation grain farm in Champaign County — was there with his son Chase and grandson Thor. Chase wore a blue coat with white stars and a red, white and blue cowboy hat. His wife Amy had red, white and blue striped pants, and 8-month-old Thor wore blue shorts with white stars.

Dale wore a smile because his grandson was in his arms.

“It’s an honor to be here,” Dale said. “This is a big deal. Clayton has done really well. ... This is another reason to feel good about our country we’re living in.

Clayton is a farm kid who was in the Future Farmers of America, showed pigs at the county fair and grew up running the country roads around New Madison, Hollansburg, Palestine and Greenville.

Now he’s a man of the world.

“In the last 30 days, he’s been in three European countries and now in Tokyo,” Melinda said.

Before that, his career took him around the globe from Qatar to the Bahamas, China, Brazil, Costa Rica and Canada.

His marriage to Ariana came after they met in Rio.

“She’s a very good fit for him,” Melinda said. “She is the best sup

port I could ask for him. She knows what it takes to be on that level because she’s been on that level. She knows the commitment.

“And now she’s been willing to make sacrifices — to sacrifice her career — to help him. You can’t find a better wife or a daughter-in-law.”

Mark agreed: “Clayton will tell you and his coach will agree, she is probably the best coach for him as far as saying, ‘Go get the job done, Clayton!’ The rest of us might say, ‘Oh, it’ll be OK Clayton. Just do your best.’ But she’s the one who says, ‘Leave it all out there!’ ”

In turn, Clayton has taught her a few things about country life, introducing her to seas of corn and soybeans, pigs, the smell of manure ... and the love small towns have for their sons and daughters who make them proud in the bigger world.

“The best part of being forced to stay at home for these Olympics is that I get to feel and watch and absorb all of Clayton’s fans and their appreciation of his talent and what he’s accomplished as an athlete and a person,” Mark said.

On Wednesday that played out in New Madison, where the school and public library held watch parties. All around town, people had signs in their yards wishing Clayton good luck.

“COVID just broke the ties of friendship and fellowship and camaraderie,” Mark said. “We’re just starting to get some of that back in our lives now, and something special like this really brings a community back together.”

Credit: Tom Archdeacon

Credit: Tom Archdeacon

Melinda said the same thing: “The Trials and now the Olympics, it’s all been very good for everybody’s spirits. It been a nice uplifting story.”

That was the heartwarming message of this day, but as the race progressed, the disappointment of the moment briefly outran it.

In the early going, the runners had stayed bunched together and the pace was slow.

“Too slow, too slow,” Mark said as he sat in front of his new TV and watched the first lap of the two-lap race.

“No one wanted to take off and run fast,” he said later. “They were all trying to protect their position, and that kind of race ends up being dangerous.”

Clayton was boxed in early and unable to maneuver himself into the kind of opening he had in his first Olympic heat in Tokyo.

Before the race Mark had noted how some people had called Clayton a “magician” for the way he gets himself in position for his trademark late-race kick.

But on this day there was magic.

Bunched together at the end, everyone had a kick.

Kenya’s Emmanuel Korir, who had the second fastest 800 in the world this year and his personal record (1:42.05 ), won the gold in 1:45.06

Fellow Kenyan Ferguson Rotich, the bronze medal winner at the 2019 World Championship, took silver in 1:45.23.

Poland’s Patryk Dobek won bronze with a 1:45.39.

Clayton finished last in the field of nine runners with a 1:46.53.

He had won the Trials with a 1:43.17, and his bronze in Rio came with a personal best finish of 1:42.93.

When the race ended, the patio guests were momentarily stunned and silent, as was Mark. Then the group broke into applause.

Mark finally stood and said: “We’re very proud of him. Representing the United States and the flag is what it’s all about.”

A while after the race, Clayton sent his dad a text:

“Love you guys. I’m obviously gutted, but tell everyone thank you for all the support and love from day one. I may have disappointed, but it isn’t over. It’s far from over.”

It was the same for Mark.

After he thanked his guests, he looked back at the kitchen where there still were doughnuts and breakfast casseroles and lots of other things he encouraged them to have.

“I’ve got to have a red doughnut,” he said as he pivoted toward the food.

It would be way of getting rid of the taste of disappointment.

A way for the meaning to begin to catch up and then bypass the moment.

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