By Christopher Hunt
At the conclusion of most televised track meets in this country, you might have heard the words: “And a special thanks to our statistician, Walt Murphy.”
The track and field community has owed Walt Murphy its thanks for many years. Murphy, winner of three Emmy Awards for his work as Associate Producer with NBC, will become the fifth recipient of the Stan Saplin Sports Media Award during a ceremony at the CHSAA Championships Saturday.
“It’s an honor and very humbling,” Murphy said. “I’m basically a lifelong fan who happened to be in the right place at the right time when opportunities to pursue the journalism aspect of the sport arose.”
The Stan Saplin Sports Media Award is presented annually to a journalist, public relations professional, executive, filmmaker or broadcaster who has made a significant contribution to the promotion of track and field.
Murphy, 66 (pictured right at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing), has worked on American televised track meets since 1978, mostly with NBC and ESPN but also with ABC, CBS and TBS, preparing background information on athletes and working with producers and announcers. He is also the author of “Walt Murphy’s News and Results Service” which produces two publications: Eastern Track, covering high school and college track from Maine to Virginia and X-Country X-Press, covering high school and college cross country across the country.
Murphy discovered his affection for track while watching his older cousin, Tom Murphy, compete in high school, where he set two national records at 600 yards while at St. Augustine’s High School in Brooklyn– both in the Armory – and became a standout at Manhattan College. Tom also qualified for the 1960 US Olympic team in the 800 meters.
Murphy first became a fan of his cousin and then of the sport. He has attended 10 Olympic Games, starting in 1964 when he signed up for an Olympic tour hosted by Track and Field News during the 1964 Tokyo Games. Through his many connections in track and field, Murphy began working with television production teams and in 1980 his friend, Peter Diamond, senior vice president at NBC, told Murphy that he was building a team to work with producers and announcers for the 1980 Olympic Trials.
He’s since worked the last six Olympic Games with NBC. Despite all his work in the sport, Murphy is still drawn to its most innocent aspects.
“Every year – I work all the pro meets, indoor and outdoors with TV – you’re dealing with agents; you’re dealing with the drug scandal,” he said. “I love to go to the Bishop Loughlin Games each year at the Armory to remind myself of why I love the sport. It gets the juices flowing again.”
Murphy has attended 10 Olympics Games, worked at the World Championships and track meets all over the country. His says the most impressive performance he’s ever seen was when Bob Beamon jumped 29 feet, 2.50 inches to set a world record in the long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, a mark that stood for 23 years. Murphy also counts the Penn Relays as his favorite meet to attend. It’s not just the elite level performances either. It’s much more than that. It’s usually a meeting of friends.
“It’s the people,” Murphy said. “I always look at track and field like one big family. You can always go to a meet and talk to the person next you because you speak the same language.”
He started in the early 1970s writing freelance assignments for Track and Field News and after the New York Times. Former Columbia coach Pete Schuder produced a newsletter called “New Breed” that covered the IC4A Conference. Murphy took over the newsletter in 1977, expanded the coverage to high school and colleges from Maine to Virginia. In 1985, he started his own, X-Country X-Press. This series, “This Day in Track & Field,” has become one of his most popular features.
Stan Saplin was an enterprising publicist and historian for four different colleges including New York University, the New York Rangers, the Millrose Games and the New York City Marathon.
Past winners include: Journalists Frank Litsky (NY Times) and Bill Miller (NY Times), sports photographer Bill Moore (Amsterdam News) and journalist Ed Grant (New Jersey Track).