RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 15: Clayton Murphy of the United States celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the Men’s 800m Final on Day 10 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 15, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Bronze medalist Murphy on Olympic postponement: ‘It was the best thing to do’

Middle-distance runner among several area hopefuls who will have to wait until 2021 to compete in Tokyo

After collecting a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Tri-Village High School alumnus Clayton Murphy was about to ramp things up in preparation for another possible appearance on the world’s biggest stage.

Now, the 25-year-old mid-distance runner and other Olympic hopefuls around the world – including a handful of elite area athletes – are pushing the pause button.

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the International Olympic Committee announced Tuesday they reached an agreement to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games because of concerns around the coronavirus pandemic. A new date for the games has not been determined, but the hope is to hold them no later than summer of 2021.

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Murphy set a Division III state record in the 1,600-meter run as a senior at Tri-Village in 2013 and three years later earned a bronze medal in the 800 at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I think in general most athletes were wanting some kind of change,” said Murphy, when reached by phone from his home in the Portland, Ore., area. “It’s very difficult right now to prepare and train at the same level as we had been for the last two or three years, so we were wanting some kind of change. I wanted it from a safety perspective as well. Bringing my family there would have been questionable so I was sitting on both sides of it. I understand the ramifications of moving a multibillion-dollar event, but I think it was the best thing to do.”

Murphy has been nursing a minor injury but was planning in the next few days to begin his training for the Olympic Trials, which were set to begin June 19 and likely also have been delayed.

Unable to leave home because of coronavirus lockdowns, he recently ordered some exercise and weight training equipment online and his physical therapist set him up with the medical modalities he needs to continue his rehab. Murphy plans to continue training at a high level so he’s ready whenever competition does return.

The postponements also mean he will try to push up the timetable on a planned move back to Ohio. Murphy, who married Olympian Ariana Washington in December, recently switched coaches to resume working with his former University of Akron coach Lee LaBadie, who helped him to his Olympic medal in his first attempt.

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“I’m disappointed I can’t take care of what I need to in 2020, but I feel like I’m on good track to be ready whenever they decide to get going again,” Murphy said. “I’m working with physical therapists and medical personnel to improve some things. I’ve been made aware of some form deficiencies I’m working to improve so I’ll be ready whenever the time comes.”

At least two others from the Dayton area had promising chances at a potential trip to the Olympics but now must extend the waiting period for their first shot. Alter High School graduate Megan Courtney plays libero for Team USA Volleyball and helped the team qualify for the Games last summer. Dayton native Molly Bruggeman, a 2010 graduate of Chaminade-Julienne, also was hopeful to make the Olympics this year in rowing. She’s placed as high as second in the World Rowing Championships in the four competition and won the pair at the 2015 Pan American Games.

Molly Bruggeman | U.S. Rowing

The 27-year-old Bruggeman is based out of the U.S. Rowing Training Center in Princeton, N.J., and had just returned from training in California when restrictions on sports and practices started coming into play. It soon became clear the selection process was at least going to be impacted, as Bruggeman and 30 other rowers were gearing up for Team USA selection camp, which was set to start April 5 and end with the team announcement June 3.

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“Obviously it is not ideal,” she said. “The priority is keeping people safe, not just athletes but spectators around the games, too. I think a lot of people were disappointed we wouldn’t be able to put our best foot forward this summer. We worked four-plus years as a team to make this goal come to fruition. To wait another year is definitely a challenge but I am ready and I know all my teammates are ready to attack another year of training and make it our best year yet.”

Bruggeman said she learned more than 75 percent of Olympic hopeful athletes were struggling to find ways to train at the high level they were accustomed to. She took an Erg – a stationary rowing machine – home when things were shutting down in New Jersey earlier this week, and she is making do with that, barbells and weight training equipment to keep fit working out from her garage.

Lakota East High School senior Jacob McDonald, who won titles in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle at the Division I state meet last month, was looking forward to his first Olympic Trials this summer but wasn’t sure how he could prepare with the state lockdown now preventing him from getting pool time.

The University of Tennessee signee plans to continue cardio, aerobic and weight training workouts but doesn’t know the impact an extended time off will have on his career. He still hopes to get a chance to compete for a spot in the Games.

“I’m faster than I’ve ever been and I am definitely disappointed,” McDonald said. “Everyone was really excited. This only comes up every four years, and a lot of people don’t even get a shot. It’s tough when you can’t practice at all. It’s a big part of my life and I have a lot of friends from swimming so it sucks to not be in the water and be with your group putting in the work.”

The 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo also were postponed, meaning Cedarville University senior Grace Norman will have to wait until next year to defend her gold medal. Norman won a gold medal in the paratriathlon and bronze in the 400 meters in the 2016 Rio de Janerio Paralympic Games.

Miami Valley Olympic medalists Grace Norman and Clayton Murphy at the White House in September of 2016. CONTRIBUTED

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