RIO DE JANEIRO — Will Claye kept a close watch on his backpack while he competed in the Olympic triple jump.
With good reason: It had a diamond ring in it.
Moments after earning a silver medal Tuesday, Claye bounded into the stands, dropped to a knee and proposed to his longtime girlfriend, hurdler Queen Harrison.
She said yes.
A medal and a marriage proposal — now that’s quite a day.
“When I woke up this morning I was like, ‘Today is going to be the best day of my life,’” said Claye, who finished behind good friend Christian Taylor, as the two Americans went 1-2 for a second straight Summer Games. “I’m going to go out there and do what I have to do on the track first and I am going to make her my fiancée after that.”
Claye said his focus was only on the competition, even given the surprise he was about to spring. It had to be that way to keep up with Taylor, who jumped 17.86 meters on his first attempt — a distance that held up. Claye went 17.76 and China’s Dong Bin jumped 17.58 for bronze.
Taylor and Claye have had a robust rivalry for years after being teammates at the University of Florida.
“It’s just who executes on that day better,” Claye said. “We’re equally talented.”
On the track, the stage belonged to Taylor. Afterward, Claye took it over.
Claye climbed up a railing and was helped up a wall. It was a complete surprise to Taylor where Claye was going, but the champion was impressed that Claye had anything left to even climb into the stands.
“I turned around and saw him over there and everyone’s saying, ‘Aww,’” Taylor said. “The camera zoomed in and I saw what was going on.”
There was the 25-year-old Claye, who, unbeknownst to everyone but two of Harrison’s closest friends, was dropping to a knee. His family was just as shocked.
“They were like, ‘Man, you’re slick,’” Claye said. “No one knew. It was pretty cool.”
Only two days earlier, China’s He Zi had the silver medal slipped around her neck when her boyfriend pulled out a ring and asked her to marry him. Last week, after a rugby match, the girlfriend of Brazilian player Isadora Cerullo went down to the field and asked Cerullo to marry her. Another proposal happened at race walking.
Claye made Harrison cry with his impromptu proposal.
“I told her she was my best friend. I told her she was my rib. I told her I want to grow old with her,” Claye recounted. “I want her to be by my side for the rest of my life. She’s helped me to grow into the man I am today.”
Claye had the ring designed before Olympic trials earlier this summer, but had no idea when — or even how — he was going to ask her. Rio de Janeiro seemed like as good of place as any.
Harrison was in the stands after not qualifying at the Olympic trials. But she wanted to be there for Claye. She wore her “Will Power” T-shirt. It looked good with the diamond.