Men’s 800m Final Preview
When: 5:28 p.m. PST, Monday, June 21
TV Coverage: Shown live on NBC during its broadcast from 5-6 p.m. PST
Five years is a long time.
Five years ago, at the last Olympic Trials, Clayton Murphy was still an unknown factor heading into the 800-meter prelims. The then 21-year old had just starting to come into his own after a good but not exceptional career at the University of Akron that included a 2015 Pan Am Games gold medal in the 800m and an 2016 NCAA title at 1,500m.
Five years ago, Donavan Brazier was already a rising star, but decidedly young and inconsistent. A standout freshman at Texas A&M, during his first year he had set a new American junior indoor mark (1:45.92) and the outdoor collegiate record while winning the NCAA Championships (1:43.55).
Five years ago, Bryce Hoppel wasn’t even on the radar. At 18, he had just completed his senior year of high school with an undefeated season that included a Texas 6A state title in the 800 (1:49.67).
One extended Olympic cycle later, everyone who is paying attention knows their names. On Monday night, when the men’s 800-meter run final gets underway at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Murphy, Brazier and Hoppel are not only the favorites to make the Olympic team but the trio should be strong contenders for medals in Tokyo.
Murphy, after becoming the surprise winner at the 2016 Trials with a dominant 1:44.76, went on to earn the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics (1:42.93). Brazier, though bounced out in the first round in 2016, became the 2019 world champion and American record-holder (1:42.34). Hoppel, now 23, won two NCAA championships at Kansas, and now has a professional PR of 1:43.23.
Even with the absence of injured Boris Berian this year, the current crop of elite half-milers might be better than the Nick Symmonds-Duane Solomon-Khadevis Robinson era of 2008-2013.
But as good as the current trio has become, there are no guarantees and there is absolutely no margin for error. “There’s no sneaking up on anyone this time around,” Murphy says. “A bronze medal kind of puts a target on your back.”
If the extra year in this Olympic cycle has changed this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials, it’s certainly helped bolster the U.S. men’s 800-meter depth. With former Penn State standouts Isaiah Harris, 24, and Brannon Kidder, 28 also in the field, not to mention several collegiate runners led by the newly minted NCAA champion Isaiah Jewett, 24, of USC, it could be one of the best top-to-bottom 800m fields ever assembled in the U.S. Olympic Trials or U.S. championships.
How It Will Go Down
Every 800m race has three key parts, the start through the first 400m split, with some taking it out fast in hopes of hanging on, the jostling for set-up positioning that typically starts at 400 meters and rearranges the order along the backstretch, and a final kick that occurs over the final 150m. With individual strengths and preferences determining tactics, there’s often more drama and lead changes per second than during any other track and field event.
If it’s a night without any wind swirling inside of Hayward Field, expect a fast race, with the top three finishers in the mid-1:43 to mid-1:44 range, especially given Jewett’s open 200m PR of 21.23.
At the most recent U.S. championships in 2019 in DesMoines, Iowa, Brazier dominated the race after the field went out slow, kicking down Murphy to win in 1:45.62. Murphy (1:46.01) held on for second, followed by Hoppel (1:46.31), Harris (1:46.45), Jewett (1:46.66) and Kidder (1:46.98).
“I’m not even going to guess a time,” Brazier says. “I’m not sure what it’s going to take, but I know it will be better competition than it was in 2016, that’s for sure. I’ve run against the best competition in the world, so it’s nice to have the best competition in America, too.”
In the semifinals on June 19, Murphy used a strong kick that he took to the line to win the first heat (1:46.26) over Brazier (1:46.57) and Kidder (1:46.97). Hoppel (1:46.00) edged Harris (1:46.16) and Jewett (1:46.18) in the other heat.
“I just wanted to be very flexible,” Murphy says. “You don’t know where the race is going to go. I feel like I can run off the front or the back right now. I feel like I was patient off the line. I knew it was going to be a strong last 150, so I wanted to make sure I was patient through 600.”
Last August, Brazier held off Hoppel 1:43:15 to 1:43.23 to win the fastest race of the season in Monaco. While Murphy and Hoppel have both dealt with injuries in the past two seasons, they’re healthy now.
“I just want to make it an honest race,” Murphy says. “I’m sure someone will be in there and take it out fast, and we’ll get all that we can and it will be a show for everybody.”
Men’s 800m Final Field
Listed by lane, with their PR time
- Donavan Brazier, 24, Beaverton, Ore., Nike, 1:42.34
- Bryce Hoppel, 23, Lawrence, Kan., Adidas, 1:43.23
- Clayton Murphy, 26, Beaverton, Ore., Nike, 1:43.94
- Isaiah Jewett, 24, Los Angeles, USC 1:44.68
- Brandon Kidder, 28, Seattle, Wash., Brooks Beasts, 1:45.39
- Isaiah Harris, 24, Beaverton,Ore., Nike, 1:45:50
- Daniel Nixon, 22, Ames, Ia., Iowa State, 1:46.21
- Samuel Voelz, 22, South Bend, Ind., Notre Dame, 1:46.39
For a preview of the women’s finals tonight, see our sister publication, Women’s Running.