Rio Olympics: No waiting game this time for Clayton Murphy

Clayton Murphy glanced at the video board at the Olympic Stadium.

With 80 meters left Saturday night in 800-meter semifinals, Murphy was locked in a duel with Poland’s Adam Kszczot for second place in the eight-man race. Murphy saw that they had separated from the field, and he knew all he needed was a second-place finish to automatically qualify for the finals.

Murphy passed Kszczot, and stayed just in front of him as they approached the finish line. Murphy crossed in 1 minute, 44.30 seconds, good for second and a place in the final.

“I knew it was either me or him probably to get the spot,” Murphy said. “It was just a lot of trying to get my feet down quicker and trying to get to the front.”

The top two finishers from each of the three semifinal heats automatically moved on to Monday’s finals. The final two spots would be taken by the next-fastest racers.

Murphy already had an idea for what time he needed to qualify heading into the third and final heat. On Friday, the 21-year-old from Tri-Village High School was forced to wait and see if his time would be good enough to advance to the semifinals. There was no waiting Saturday.

“I didn’t give up on being top two, but I knew what I had to do if I was going to end up being third or fourth even,” Murphy said. “It’s nice today not to have that waiting game.”

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The race Saturday was also far less physical than the Friday heat, where Murphy tripped and stumbled to start. He spent most of the semifinals near the middle of the pack, before vaulting his way into third near the 200-meter mark.

David Rudisha of Kenya, who holds the world record for the 800-meter, led the way nearly the entire race and finished first at 1:43.88. After Rudisha separated himself, it became a battle for second. Rudisha is the reigning Olympic and world champion.

“That’s all you had to be was second, and I was second,” Murphy said. “You don’t get style points in qualifying. I learned that the hard way yesterday.”

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Murphy will race for gold at 9:25 p.m. on Monday. He could become the first American to medal in the event since 1992.

“Honestly, I haven’t even thought about race strategy for Monday,” Murphy said. “It’s ‘Hey, I made the finals for the Olympics’ and I’m going to enjoy for this evening.”

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