2023 USAs Men’s 800 Preview: Will A Veteran Like Clayton Murphy or Bryce Hoppel Win Or Could Will Sumner Spoil The Party?

Let’s break down the men’s 800 for the the 2023 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships that take place later this week in Eugene.

There are 10 Americans in the field who have broken 1:46.00 this year. Which 3 of them will end up on Team USA?

Athletes in bold have the 1:44.70 World standard or a world ranking high enough to get in.

Name Affiliation Mark
Will Sumner University of Georgia 1:44.26
Bryce Hoppel adidas 1:44.55
Clayton Murphy NIKE 1:44.75
Isaiah Jewett NIKE 1:45.10
Isaiah Harris Brooks Beasts TC 1:45.11
Kameron Jones Tracksmith 1:45.20
Brandon Miller 1:45.30
Isaiah Harris BROOKS Beasts TC 1:45.11
Wes Ferguson University of Nebraska at Kearney 1:45.46
Vincent Crips Under Armour 1:45.70
Devin Dixon Brooks Beasts 1:45.98

Wes Ferguson’s world ranking points of 1147 is 10 below what is getting in so he’d likely get in if he’s top 3. I assume Brandon Miller probably would get in on world ranking but it’s impossible to say that with 100% certainty as he’s only got 3 races this year and you need 5 for a ranking.

Bryce Hoppel at the Olympic Trials in 2021. Tim Healy for TrackTown USA

Put Him On The Team: Bryce Hoppel

Judging on past history, it’s a good bet to put Bryce Hoppel on the team. He’s the defending champ and has made each of the last three USA teams (3rd in 2019 and 2021). Outdoors this year, he’s finished first or second in four of his five races. Yes, he had one stinker on May 27 when Hoppel was 9th at the USATF LA Grand Prix. But he more than made up for that by dominating the USATF NYC Grand Prix on June 24, winning in a seasonal best 1:44.55 in a field that included Isaiah Harris, Brandon Miller, Will Sumner and Erik Sowinski.

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If He’s Healthy, I’d Also Put Him On The Team: Clayton Murphy

There’s one Olympic medallist in the field and that’s 2016 bronze medallist Clayton Murphy. When healthy, Murphy almost always makes the US team. Since 2016, Murphy has been top 3 at USAs every single year he’s run it (he was a DNS in 2017 when he tried the 1500/800 double but got hurt) except for last year. But last year, he went into USAs with only a 1:45.62 seasonal best. This year, ran 1:45.6 in his outdoor season opener and has run under 1:45 twice (1:44.75 sb). Yes Murphy is getting older but he’s only 28. The only real concern I have is Murphy only ran 1:49.12 in his last race on June 18 in France. Now it was his second race in five days so hopefully he realized he was a little tired and pulled the plug. But if he was injured and isn’t 100%, he’s probably going to struggle to make the team.

Who Takes The Third Spot?

If Hoppel and Murphy take two spots, that leaves one spot.

Will Sumner is the US leader as he looked like a world-beater in winning NCAAs in 1:44.26 as a true freshman for Georgia, but he looked quite ordinary in his next race at the USATF NYC Grand Prix on June 24. Sumner’s certainly got the talent to make the team and medal at Worlds but the more I think about it, the more I don’t think he’ll make it. As more of a 400/500 guy in HS (plus someone who was super talented when he did run the 800), he doesn’t have a lot of experience in running in a pack and seems most comfortable when he leads races from start to finish but that’s unlikely to happen at USAs. Plus this guy barely runs and there are three rounds at USAs, not just two like NCAAs. If Donovan Brazier couldn’t make the team in 2016 when he won NCAAs in record fashion, why would Sumner do it here?

There are three other guys in the field who all won an NCAA title and have made a US team in the past.

And there isn’t much separating Isaiah Harris, the 2018 NCAA champ for Penn State, and Isaiah Jewett, the 2021 NCAA champ for USC, both literally and figuratively. They have the same first name, they are both 26, and Jewett has run 1:45.10 this year to Harris’ 1:45.11. Head to head, Harris leads 6 to 4 but Jewett has won their last three matchups, including one in LA this year (Jewett was second in 1:45.10 with Harris sixth in 1:45.41) so I’d give him the edge over Harris, who was second at USAs in 2017 and 2018 but is now five years removed from his last top-3 finish at USAs.

That being said, Harris comes into USAs on the upswing as he ran 1:45.11 for 2nd in NY in his last race. And it should be pointed out that Jewett hasn’t raced since LA on May 27. Like Murphy, if he’s not healthy, he’s not making the team.

Brandon Miller, the 2022 NCAA indoor champ for Texas A&M, hasn’t been running as well in 2023 under new coach Bobby Kersee as he was last year in college.

At Texas A&M he ran 1:45.24 indoors to win NCAAs and then 1:45.09 outdoors at NCAAs to get third and hten 1:45.19 to get third at USAs. When he made the team last year, it was his 16th 800 of this year. This year he didn’t open up until May 27, has only raced three times, and has failed to break 1:46 in two of the three.

Two other runners in the field have broken 1:45.50 this year. Kameron Jones was a 400 runner at Maryland with a 1:49.79 pb who went to Clemson in 2021 and ran 1:45.47. He’s improved that to 1:45.20 this year which he ran to get 4th at the USATF LA Grand Prix on May 27, but he hasn’t finished a race since then (DNF in Atlanta on June 17), which concerns me. Also, he’s run five 800s outdoors this year and only broken 1:47 in two of them.

Wes Ferguson is a name many may not know. He was the Nebraska HS state champ in the 400 and 800 in 2019 (49.07/1:52.85) who then went to DII Nebraska Kearney, where he’s improved every year, running 1:51.52 in 2021, 1:47.80 in 2022, and 1:45.46 at altitude to win NCAAs on May 27. This is a big step up in class for him as he’s finished first or second in every 800 he has run this year. But sometimes people handle the step up in class just fine. In 2006, Nick Symmonds showed up at USAs for the first time after dominating the NCAA DIII ranks for years. Symmonds had a 1:47.34 pb but left USAs as the runner-up with a 1:45.83 pb.

There’s two other guys at USAs who have broken 1:46 this year.

Devin Dixon ran 1:44.76 in 2019 and then seemed like a lost cause but he’s found his way with the Brooks Beasts this year. He’s been running smaller meets this year (1:45.98 sb, first or second in every race) and is headed in the right direction. Indoors, every race he ran was faster than the previous (from 1:52 to 1:46) and outdoors that’s true as well (1:49 to 1:45).

Under Armour’s Vincent Crisp didn’t make the final at USAs last year but then ran 1:45.03 a week later.

LRC Prediction: Murphy’s won three US titles (Hoppel only has won 1) so I’m going with him for #4, Hoppel, Jewett.

More 2023 USA Previews:

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