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In the complicated emerging Olympic sport of proposing marriage, triple-jumper Will Claye gets it right

United States’ Will Claye won a silver medal in the triple jump, then proposed to his girlfriend Queen Harrison on Tuesday at the Olympic Stadium in Rio.
United States’ Will Claye won a silver medal in the triple jump, then proposed to his girlfriend Queen Harrison on Tuesday at the Olympic Stadium in Rio. The Associated Press

At the Rio Games, golf is back in the Olympics for the first time since the 1904 St. Louis Olympics and rugby for the first time since Paris 1924.

But another event seems to be seizing the Games in an entirely new way, too: public proposals of marriage, with at least five known episodes involving Olympians having occurred as of Tuesday morning.

This sort of thing has been going on by various ways and means for years, of course.

But no wonder we’re seeing a trend likely only to gain momentum as social media beckons us to provide play-by-play of our lives for all to see and further erodes lines between what might be considered precious and that to be trumpeted.

You may always love this stuff and think it romantic, and you may always hate it.

Or maybe you’re like me and sometimes enjoy it and other times just wonder why and question how fair it is to the person being asked with others gawking on.

This was at the crux of a controversial case in point in Rio when Chinese diver Qin Kai asked teammate He Zi to marry him just after she was awarded a silver medal on Sunday.

Some saw this as him stealing her scene or being controlling and taking advantage of emotions.

Some figured they’d been together for six years and why not then?

However you feel about this concept in general, though, it’s worth remembering that every story has its own context.

And there sure was something perfect about the timing of U.S. triple-jumper Will Claye’s subsequent leap of faith: a proposal to girlfriend Queen Harrison on Tuesday morning at the Olympic Stadium.

Moments after he’d won a second straight Olympic silver medal in the event, Claye, 25, made for the stands with the backpack that had a diamond ring tucked in it.

Fans had to hoist him by his arms to get into the seats, and he joked later that that might have been a more difficult physical feat than winning the silver medal behind teammate and repeat gold-medalist Christian Taylor.

“I didn’t (get in the stands) by myself; I got some help,” he said, smiling. “I didn’t need any help on the runway.”

Then he was swarmed by family before he locked eyes with Harrison and made his way to her.

He told her she was “my rib” and that he wanted to grow old with her, and then he popped the question feeling probably more stress than he’d expended on the track, too.

“Thankfully, she said yes,” he said, smiling.

He would have asked her even if he hadn’t earned a medal, he said.

But the combination pretty well delivered on what he woke up anticipating would be the greatest day of his life.

This would be a fine story if it ended there, but to appreciate the impeccable timing, let’s flash back to the U.S. Olympic track trials.

Harrison, 27, was the youngest track athlete on the U.S. Olympic team when she competed in the 400-meter hurdles in the 2008 Beijing Games.

But then she narrowly missed qualifying for London 2012 in the 100 and 400 hurdles, and then she failed to qualify in the 100 hurdles by .03 seconds this time around.

Crushed as she was, Claye said, she found a way to “throw the whole thing out” for him as he prepared for the triple jump at trials.

Instead of moping, she said, “ ‘I’m here to support you now. I didn’t make the team, it’s OK. But you have to make this team tomorrow. ... Whatever you need, I’m here for you.’ 

That, Claye said, “just goes to show you what type of woman she is.”

Her gift gave him a lift and relaxed him all at once.

Because it got him thinking less about himself and more about how he wanted to be there for her, too.

He credited that ease of mind for helping him qualify for Rio.

It was another tier of complication, though, when it came to the Olympics.

At first, Harrison didn’t know if she could handle being in Rio without competing, and Claye understood.

And soon went out and bought the ring.

Then she decided she wanted to be here to support him and watch him do his thing.

Claye brought the ring along to Rio unsure of whether he’d ask her here but “just in case” he felt the spirit move him.

“That was what I woke up with today,” he said.

A few to whom he’d brought up the idea had discouraged it.

A coach thought it best he wait until they got back home, though Claye figured that was just because he didn’t want him distracted from competition.

A dear friend of Harrison’s also told him not to do it.

“ ‘That’s your moment,’ ” he remembered her saying.

Alright, he said. In the back of his mind, though, he had another thought.

Instead of it being just his moment, he realized, “It can be our moment.”

More so than he even realized.

Only when he got back down on the track and saw U.S. hurdler Brianna Rollins passing did he realize all of this had just happened at the precise moment the trip would have been most difficult for Harrison.

“It was just meant to happen that way,” he said.

It was hard to disagree, no matter how you usually feel about public proposals.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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