Clayton Murphy Calls His Shot

Don't you just love it when an athlete calls their shot?  

In 1932 Babe Ruth pointed to the stands during Game 2 of the World Series and hit a home run on the very next pitch.  It's the stuff of legned.  At Sunday's Portland Track Festival, Clayton Murphy, a 2016 bronze medalist, is pointing his bat at the 1000m American Record record of 2:13.9h held by 1976 bronze medalist, Rich Wohlhuter.   It's Bronze on Bronze.

You'll get a chance to meet Rick Wohlhuter, as he'll be holding the finish line tape for Clayton. To prep for the big race we asked Rick a few questions beginning with his recollections of that 1974 race.

Q. You set the 1000m record at the 1974 Bislett Games in Oslo which we know as a Diamond League meet today. What was the setting on that night?  Did you specifically request the 1000m distance to chase the record?

The Bislett Games in 1974 was an important meet on the European circuit.  I remember it well.  That night the meet conditions were near perfect with cool weather and little wind.  The fans sat on the edge of their seats close to the track where they pounded on the metal banners surrounding the track.  The atmosphere became feverish when fans sensed a world record might be set.  For the race we had a great field with many of the best 800 meter runners lined up for the start..  I knew the race would be fast so I asked for a rabbit to set a fast pace through the first 400 meters.  The pacer did his job well and we were on our way.  The force of competition keep the pace quick through 800 meters.  Around the final turn several of us struggled to maintain form and speed as we approached the finish line.  The race was over and I prevailed with a new World and American record.  This was one of the highlights of my track career.

Q. 1974 was a big year for you.  It was midway between the Munich and Montreal Games and a decade before the IAAF World Championships were introduced.  In that amateur era of the sport what did a career in track and field look like between Olympic years?

During those years between Olympic Games, I lived, worked, and trained in Chicago.  In the 1970s track and field was not yet a professional sport.  So I was also focused on my job, as I had to support myself.  I worked full time from 8 to 5 followed by training on the track. Several days a week I trained before and after work.  I trained at the University of Chicago facilities during the winter and during the spring.  Like many athletes, I often traveled to various cities in the U.S. for meets and spent at least one month each season competing in Europe during the summer.  Back then, I often made appearances and occasionally spoke at various events.  There was not much free time.  Being one of the best middle distance runners in the world was reward enough for me.

Q. You competed in Munich and Montreal but abandoned a comeback attempt when the US instituted a boycott of the Moscow Games in early 1980.  What did the boycott mean to your generation of athletes?  

I had competed in two past Olympics so the boycott did not affect me as it did those striving to make their first team.  The boycott was unfortunate for various reasons mostly because it achieved so little as boycotts often do.  Most of all it needlessly affected those dedicating their athletic lives to compete in the Olympics.

Q. Do you hope the record goes down this weekend?

Any record is important to the record holder as it represents the new performance standard.  I am surprised the American record lasted this long; but a new standard needs to be set for 1000 meters. This would be good for American middle distance running. So the time is right for the record to fall.  Moreover, I still hold a world record at 880 yards since yard records (except the mile) have been retired.