The View From Pluto: How Akron's Clayton Murphy Went From Pig Farmer to Olympic Medalist
The University of Akron is celebrating its first ever track and field Olympic medalist. Clayton Murphy, 21, won the bronze in the 800-meter final in Rio on Monday. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says the Akron standout is also an Ohio native, growing up on pig farm in a small village near Dayton.
"These are the kind of the stories you get at the Olympics," Pluto says. "Yes, the [U.S.] basketball team is playing there and all that, but these are not the millionaire athletes."
Murphy graduated high school in a class of just 50 students. Pluto says he ended up at the University of Akron because an Akron baseball coach saw him run in high school and put in a word with Akron's track coach. They went to scout him and invited him to Akron.
A more even playing field
Pluto says Akron is in a good position to attract elite athletes in sports other than football and basketball because there's a more even playing field when it comes to scholarships.
"Unlike football, where there's 85 full scholarships or basketball where you have to give a player a full scholarship or nothing, Division I schools can give out 12.6 men's track and field scholarships. So what they do is they chop them up into different little pieces."
"If you had 40 scholarships like you have 85 football, well then Ohio State or whatever your big programs are, [are] just going to scoop up everybody. The more scholarships, the more likely the big boys dominate. The fewer scholarships, the more chance for the lesser schools."
The grueling 800-meter
Clayton Murphy's bronze is the first medal for the U.S. in the 800-meter since 1992. And Pluto says that's because it's a tough race. It's called a middle-distance run, meaning, "You're supposed to run it like a sprint except you're just supposed to keep running and running and running. It isn't like if you're running a mile or two miles where you're pacing yourself. There's a lot of strategy involved. When you're done, you just feel like an elephant has sat on your chest," Pluto says.
Good for Akron
Pluto says Murphy's bronze medal, along with two pole vaulters who also competed in Rio (Shawn Barber and Annika Roloff), is good for the school's track and field program. "Akron could go in and recruit one of these kids and say, 'Look, we got the first guy to medal here since 1992! You weren't even born the last time anybody medaled and now we've got Clayton Murphy!'"
Pluto says a tough reality for most Olympians is that it's all about one moment. "This is your first shot in four years. In the back of every one of these competitors mind is the twisted ankle, the hamstring, the injury right before. Your emotions have to peak at just right the time. Now, Clayton's only 21. it's possible that four years from now he could come back and run, but maybe not."
Murphy turned pro in June, forgoing his final year of eligibility at the University of Akron. "He said he's going to go back and finish his degree in finance. And often times you find this -- these players and athletes in these "lesser" sports tend to have to pretty good academic majors."