October 1st, 2019
As a member of the media I am supposed to be impartial, not expressing any kind of support or enthusiasm for a particular country or athlete. We journalists are supposed to be neutral – like Switzerland. That said, as an American track & field fan I find it difficult to adhere to that required posture when the USA has three athletes – Donovan Brazier, Bryce Hoppel, and Clayton Murphy – poised to compete in the 2019 world championship final of the men’s 800 meters.
Getting three American middle distance athletes into the men’s 800 meter final doesn’t happen all the time. In fact it has only happened on one prior occasion: In 1995 Mark Everett, José Parrilla, and Brandon Rock represented the red, white, and blue in the championship race. None of them made the podium. No medals.
The USA’s world championship medal harvest in the men’s 800 meters has been meager indeed. In the 17 world championship gatherings since the initial championship in 1983, only three times have American men earned 800 meter medals: Everett [bronze in 1991], Rich Kenah [bronze in 1997], and Nick Symmonds [silver in 2013]. The American women are only slightly better. The 2-3 finish by Raevyn Rogers and Ajée Wilson last night in the women’s 800 meter final pushed the USA women’s all-time world championship 800 meter medal count to 5: a bronze for Alysia Johnson Montaño [in 2011 and in 2013]; a silver for Brenda Martinez [in 2013]; and a silver for Rogers and a bronze for Wilson last night.
And you will note: In the world championships no golds have been earned by American half milers of any gender. Ever. In the 17 world championships and heading into tonight’s competition, the IAAF has awarded 99 medals to the various 800 meter athletes who have made the podium. Eight – 8! – have been presented to American medalists 5 bronze and 3 silver. And no golds. Could this be the night? It’s time.
The men’s 800 meter final got underway as expected with Puerto Rico’s Wesley Vazquez charging to the front. His rush to the lead was a tactic that proved successful for him in winning his semi-final race. USA’s Donovan Brazier tucked in behind the early leader with American Clayton Murphy on the rail in 4th. Vazquez led the field past 200 meters in 23.51 as the championship field got settled in. On the first lap homestretch, Vazquez continued to lead, completing the first circuit in a quick 48.99 and stretching his lead to 15 meters. With 300 meters to go, Brazier, stalking the Puerto Rican from the start, stepped it up and rushed into the lead. With 200 meters remaining, the American had quickly created separation from the field. With 150 meters to go, Bosnia’s Amel Tuka began his charge, moving up to 2nd. But Brazier, not to be denied, powered unchallenged down the homestretch to hit the line in 1:42.34, a new championship and American record. Tuka [1:43.47] crossed second for the silver. Kenya’s Ferguson Rotich [1:43.82] finished strong for the bronze while USA’s Bryce Hoppel [1:44.25] charged from off the pace to finish a surprising 4th.
The Americans shared their thoughts with the media in the mixed zone. Hoppel, the former University of Kansas athlete and NCAA 1500 meter champion who signed with Adidas earlier this summer, was overwhelmed by his success in the final. “If you would have asked me a few months ago or at the beginning of the season about finishing 4th at the world championships, I would have said, ‘What are you talking about?” But this is kind of like a storybook story for me. But now it has become a reality and I am kind of excited from it and will just try to get better and better,” shared Hoppel who was tantalizingly close to the bronze. “The medal was right there within reach. I am so glad that Donovan won the gold. I think it is a great thing for the sport and a great thing for the USA. I was just happy to be a part of the whole race and the experience.” When asked what he needs to do to reach the podium, the former Jayhawk said, “I think confidence is the bedrock of that. Now that I’ve been here, I’m looking forward to next season. I think I need to work a little bit on the speed. Being out of position doesn’t make me happy. I like to be up in the pack at all times. That’s probably going to be one of the things I’ll work on.”
Clayton Murphy, who suffered through a last lap meltdown to finish last in 1:47.84, was clearly devastated by the bombshell announcement earlier in the day that Alberto Salazar, his Nike Oregon Project coach, was found guilty by arbitrators of doping violations and had been given a 4-year ban from the sport. Peppered by the mixed zone press for his reaction to Salazar’s ban and its consequences on his relationship with Salazar and the NOP, the reigning Olympic 800 meter bronze medalist provided a frank response. “I really don’t know what happened with Alberto. Everything with that happened before I was in the camp,” said Murphy. “I never had any kind of pressure from Alberto; never took anything; never was asked to do anything away from the camp. I’ve always competed clean. Everything that happened was before I was a part of the team.” The multiple-time national champion made it clear he has not yet considered how today’s news would impact, if at all, his relationship with Salazar and the NOP. “I’ve completely focused on tonight. I’ve had no conversations about it. Right now is all about my performance tonight. And I would say it was a poor performance tonight.” It is clear that the ill-timed release of the arbitrators’ decision will prove to be an ongoing distraction for Salazar’s athletes for the remainder of these championships.
Donovan Brazier – also a Nike Oregon Project athlete, but coached by Peter Julian, not Salazar – shared his thoughts on his record performance which took down the American 800 meter record: the 1:42.60 clocking set by Johnny Gray in 1985. “Pete Julian told me that Vazquez is going to take it out hard and to stick with him, make my move and take full responsibility whether I finish strong or die,” revealed the new American record holder and world champion. “The payoff means a lot to me with the time and the record.”
Dave Hunter is an award-winning journalist who is a U.S. Correspondent for Track & Field News. He also writes a weekly column and serves as Senior Writer for www.RunBlogRun.com, and covers championship track & field competition domestically and in such global capitals as Moscow, Birmingham, Zurich, Brussels, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Zagreb, and Ostrava. Hunter frequently serves as the arena or stadium announcer for championship track & field gatherings, including the Ivy League, the Big East, the Mid-American Conference, the NAIA, the Big Ten, and the Millrose Games. Hunter has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments.. He ran his marathon P.R. of 2:31:40 on the Boston Marathon course back in the Paleozoic Era. To find out more about Dave, visit his website: www.trackandfieldhunter.com He can be reached at: email@example.com