RIO de JANEIRO — Every day, I try to find one sweet little Olympic story to share with my daughters back home. It doesn’t have to be a big story. For instance, the other day after Usain Bolt won 100-meter gold there was a half-mile long line to get on the bus back to the press center.
The line moved more quickly than expected and after maybe a half hour or 45 minutes, I made it to the front. And just as I was about to get on the bus, this photographer — no idea where he was from — tried to cut in front of the line and get on the bus himself. He wasn’t rude about it, he just kind of tried to sneak on the bus by pretending he had been in line all along.
And this young Brazilian volunteer saw this. And she said this to him:
“Please. We are all friends. Why would you do this to your friends?”
That touched me. The guy kind of sheepishly worked his way to the back of the line. It was the sweetest rebuke I’ve ever witnessed.
There have been lots of sweet little stories like that for the girls, but none of them are quite as sweet as the story of American triple jumper Will Claye. He woke up Tuesday morning, the day of his big event, and he had this overwhelming feeling.
“Today,” he decided, “is going to be the best day of my life.”
“Awwwww!” my 11-year-old daughter Katie says.
“Wait,” I say, “I haven’t told you the story yet.”
Claye won the silver medal in the triple jump in London four years ago. Tuesday, he was back in the triple jump event again. On his first jump, his very first one, he jumped 17.76 meters, the longest jump of his entire life. That put him just behind his teammate and friend Christian Taylor, just like four years ago.
“Yes,” Claye thought, “this is going to be the best day of my life.”
“Awwwwww!” Katie says.
“No,” I say. “I haven’t gotten to the good part yet.”
So the competition plays out just like that — Christian Taylor gold, Will Claye silver. Just like in London. Both athletes get American flags to wrap up in and they begin to celebrate. Only then Will decides he has to get over into the stands. “I’m looking over,” Taylor says, “And I’m thinking, ‘What is this guy doing?’”
See, there’s no way to get from the track to the stands. There is a giant pit between the two. It’s a big enough pit that even the silver medalist in the triple jump would not have a chance of jumping across.
Then Claye sees a little ledge. He gets on that ledge and sort of crosses his way over, only he realizes that because the ledge is so far below the actually stands he can’t get up there.
“Hey!” he shouts up to the people in the stands. “Um, can you guys help me up there.”
So they reach down and lift him into the stands (“Awww,” Katie says). And then he works his way through the crowd over to his family, and they ask him how he got there. He tells them he jumped. They hug him. They congratulate him. It’s nice. And then he sees his girlfriend, Queen Harrison. She’s a 400-meter hurdler. She made the U.S. Olympic team four years ago, but she finished a heartbreaking fourth at the Trials this year, one spot off the team.
After she missed the team, she told Claye that while she was disappointed, her entire focus was now on helping him make the team (“Awwww!”). “I mean, wow, knowing what she was going through, fourth place is the worst,” Claye says. “For her to be there for me … I think that made the difference.”
I ask Katie to please save her “Awwws” until the end of the story.
So, Claye sees Harrison. She sees him. They locked eyes. And then Claye reaches into his pocket and pulls out the ring he’d been carrying around for a month or so. He’d brought the ring to Rio because, as he says, you never know, The mood might strike.
“Women are nosy,” Claye would say with a huge grin on his face. “She wanted to know when I was going to propose, and I’m like, no, I don’t know. God will tell me, I’ll wake up one day and I’ll just know.”
This was the day, the best day of his life. He gave Harrison and he ring and asked her to marry him (“Awwwww!”). She said yes (“Awwwwww!”).
And then, when the fans and cameras started circling them, Harrison played bodyguard. She shouted out, “OK, everybody back up, he’s got to get back on the track.” He did have to get back on the track. He still had to get his silver medal.
“Awwwww!” Katie says one more time. She loves it. The 14-year-old, Elizabeth, isn’t as impressed. She liked “Suicide Squad” better.