From pig farm to Olympic podium: The unlikely story of Clayton Murphy

Clayton Murphy celebrates after finishing third in the men's 800 meter. (AP)
Clayton Murphy celebrates after finishing third in the men’s 800 meter. (AP)

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RIO DE JANEIRO — From the pig farm to the podium at the Olympics. Clayton Murphy has come a long way in a hurry.

Growing up on the family farm in New Paris, Ohio – population 1,629 – Murphy showed pigs and sold them at area livestock fairs.

“Clayton loved to show the pigs,” his father, Mark, told Runners World last month. “And I can tell you, he is just as good a pig salesman as he is a runner.”

Then the 21-year-old should make a fortune in porcine sales. Because on a raw, windy Monday night, he was the third-fastest 800-meter runner in the Olympic Games. That feat might bump composer Benjamin Hanby, who wrote the Christmas carol “Up On The Housetop” in 1864, off the perch as Most Famous New Parisian.

Murphy withstood a withering early Kenyan pace, navigated some traffic along the way and had enough left to surge late and pick up a bronze medal – America’s first medal in the 800 since Johnny Gray won bronze in 1992. Murphy’s time of 1 minute, 42.93 seconds is third-fastest in American history.

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Kenyan superstar Daniel Rudisha won his second straight 800 gold in 1:42.15, but could not approach his startling world-record time of 1:40.91 from London four years ago. Taofik Makhloufi of Algeria took silver, while Murphy passed Frenchman Pierre-Ambroise Bosse in the stretch for a very satisfying bronze.

“I hit the line and heard, ‘Flag, flag, flag!’” said Murphy, who headed to the rail to take the stars and stripes from a fan. “They were like, ‘Hey, you can smile!’ It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m sure it’s not going to sink in for a while.”

Not bad for a guy who was seventh in the 800 at the Ohio State Division III high school track championships only three years ago. Murphy was so unlikely an Olympic middle-distance runner while at Tri-Village Local School that he didn’t even watch Rudisha smash the world record in jaw-dropping fashion in London four years ago.

Murphy’s best time in high school in the 800 was 1:54 – he was better at the 1,500. Twelve seconds and three years later, they’ll put a bronze medal around his neck at the award ceremony Tuesday night.

He was a low-profile recruit who went north to Akron – a good program, but not exactly a national powerhouse. There he’s trained under distance and cross country coach Dick LaBadie, who at Illinois in 1971 became the first runner in the Big Ten to run a sub-4 minute mile.

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“Coach LaBadie has been able to progress me slowly the last three or four years in college,” Murphy said. “He said, ‘The times will come, the times will come.’ And I guess tonight proved it.”

Murphy played soccer and basketball growing up and was good at both. When he gave them up to concentrate on running, it disappointed his father.

Right now, Mark Murphy is probably just fine with that decision. The pig selling can wait, too. His son is an Olympic medalist.