Would Clayton Murphy be a star without Lee LaBadie's coaching genius?

The term ‘disheartening’ connects three significant names in Clayton Murphy’s life: Hayward Field, the University of Akron, and the Nike Oregon Project. These names were instrumental in his career at one point, but as of July 2024, they evoke a sense of missed opportunity for the Paris Olympics. On June 30, Clayton Murphy faced the disappointment of seeing his chance for a big win slipping away, despite having built up considerable hope. Such setbacks are not unfamiliar in his athletic journey.

Clayton tasted such an experience in all of the three names indicated above. However, he always had one individual to lift him up: His longtime coach. Ultimately, the coach had a significant impact on Clayton’s career. Would you like to know more about it? Let’s delve into the details.

Meet Clayton Murphy’s long-time coach, Lee LaBadie


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Clayton Murphy’s road to the Rio Olympics started with his admission to the University of Akron in the fall of 2013. There he met coach Lee LaBadie. Soon their camaraderie thickened on and off the track and Clayton witnessed a serious development in his performances on the track. Ultimately, their effort came to fruition in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where Clayton Murphy claimed the bronze medal with his personal best timing in the 800m event. That timing still stands and Clayton has had a problem never acknowledging Lee LaBadie’s contribution in it. However, in 2017, Clayton shifted to the Nike Oregon Project, to train under Alberto Salazar. That adds another episode in Lee LaBadie and Clayton Murphy’s personal equation. 

Poll of the day

Who deserves the most credit for Clayton Murphy's rise to stardom?

Clayton Murphy himself

His coach

His family

His natural talent

In 2019, USADA handed Salazar a four-year ban (later, Alberto Salazar faced a lifetime ban from the sport due to his inappropriate behavior with trainee athletes). That ruling cast doubt on the Nike Oregon Project. Consequently, Clayton had to leave the camp and the beloved Hayward Field behind. However, this decision turned out to be a blessing as he soon transferred to the University of Akron. In fact, Clayton admitted that he had been in contact with LaBadie before rejoining UA. Unfortunately, this stint with UA was short-lived due to Lee LaBadie’s absence from the camp.


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In June 2020, the former NCAA champion severed ties with UA, citing the university’s unauthorized use of his name and image. He had informed his former coach Lee LaBadie about this decision beforehand. However, Clayton has never felt unsupported by LaBadie, who himself was once a standout athlete.

Accomplishments and nominations make Lee LaBadie a respected name

In 1973, as an Illinois graduate, Lee LaBadie achieved the distinction of becoming the first Big Ten undergraduate to run the mile in under three minutes. He was also highly regarded in the 800m run and earned an NCAA championship in the two-mile relay. Transitioning to coaching, LaBadie replicated his success, with much credit going to Clayton Murphy for his achievements.


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Under his coaching, Clayton Murphy claimed the 800m NCAA indoor title in 2015. Later, he also won the 1500m NCAA title in the indoor event. These performances fueled the aspirations of the Ohio native to aim for bigger goals, attempting to meet the 1500m Olympic qualification mark. However, after narrowly missing the mark by 0.03 seconds, he shifted his focus to the 800m run.

At Hayward Field, Clayton Murphy tasted his success as Lee LaBadie witnessed him take the top podium in the 800m trial for the Rio Olympics. His success took a higher flight as in the 800m semifinal round in Rio, Murphy became the third fastest American ever (1:44.30) in the 800m event. And everyone knows the rest when Clayton Murphy won the 800m bronze in Rio. But the humble coach never took credit for such a success. Rather he said, “The only reason I would be nominated is that Clayton ran so well all season long. I’m just part of the team. He’s the team leader.” However, FloTrack nominated him as the best American Distance Coach of the Year award. But for him, his best prize remained his mentees’ success.