The horror of the Olympics marriage proposal

Why asking your partner to marry you right after they’ve won a medal is a terrible thing to do.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

In many ways, the Olympics is a bit like a relationship. Highs, lows, outlandish risks, heady rewards, periods of intense boredom, matching practical leisurewear, and always a little shorter than you expect it to last.

But that’s no excuse for what a few actual couples have been getting up to in Rio this year. For these shall forever be remembered as the Games of horrifying publicly-sanctioned entrapment under the guise of romance. Ie. the public marriage proposal.

So far, three couples have got engaged, and another publicised their upcoming wedding, during the Rio Olympics.

A practice usually reserved for the stands at loud yet indecipherable US sports games – in which the crowd roars and holds its hotdogs aloft in tribute as a sweating mess in a baggy t-shirt proposes to his girlfriend, the camera homing in on the raw fear in her eyes – the public proposal has been promoted to global audiences via live Olympic Games coverage.

A couple of days ago, the Chinese diver, Qin Kai, proposed to his girlfriend and fellow diver, He Zi, moments after she had been awarded a silver medal for her performance in the three-metre springboard. Basking in her triumph, stepping off the podium just after the medal ceremony, Zi was met with her man on one knee, presenting her a diamond ring and a Beauty and the Beast-style red rose encased in glass. A metaphor if ever there was one.

Here it is:


And you can watch in agony how long it takes her to nod her head in grudging agreement here:


She said yes! the papers and commentators were quick to gush. But how could she have said otherwise? Not only was her boyfriend quaking at her feet, the whole stadium cheering, and the world’s media filming, but she had just experienced one of the proudest moments of her life – winning an Olympic medal. How could she possibly spoil her moment by being awkward and taking the time to think about this surprise proposal? (And she confirmed afterwards that it was very much a surprise).

This is the problem with public proposals. They are, at heart, an act of intense coercion and humiliation, made by men apparently too insecure to ask their loved one to spend the rest of their life with them without a baying mob complicit in the weird slushy sting operation.

And the post-medal Olympian public proposal is even worse. As with British dressage gold medallist Charlotte Dujardin’s fiancé, Dean Wyatt Golding – who donned a crappy A4 sheet of paper whimpering “Can we get married now?” in passive-aggressive felt-tip following her win – it’s just stealing your partner’s limelight. Taking the glory and attention they’ve received for their sporting prowess, and immediately focusing it on you, and your ownership of them. You’ve won your prize, now it’s time for me to claim mine.

On your knee, get set, NO.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

Free trial CSS