Throughout the physical race, Murphy tripped and was bumped, but he managed to end the first lap in third. In the final lap, the 21-year-old was overtaken by Great Britain’s Michael Brimmer.
Murphy, the Olympic Trials 800-meter champion, looked visibly disappointed as he walked off the track.
Murphy failed to earn one of the three automatic qualifying berths in each of the seven heats. After his race, he was focused on the heats that followed, eyeing every fourth-place finisher and anxiously stacking up his time against theirs. After the 21 automatic qualifiers, the next three fastest times also advanced.
“At this point it’s just a waiting game,” Murphy said. “I feel like it is taking forever to watch this go through, but I’m not where I wanted to be on the first day.”
By the seventh and final heat, nearly every other fourth-place finisher had a slower time, allowing him to advance with the second-fastest non-automatic qualifying time.
“Today for sure I was getting my feet wet,” he said. “Hopefully, I have confidence tomorrow and it was a great first experience. I don’t think I did anything wrong, I was just fourth and didn’t get third.”
Murphy will run in the third semifinal heat at 9:22 p.m. Saturday. The top two finishers in each race and the next two fastest times advance to Monday’s final.
Cat Cardenas is reporting from the Rio Olympics for the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism.