Borel finishes 11th in shot put, but gets ring on her finger

Former UMBC athlete accepts proposal from Balto. County man

Track And Field

Athens 2004

August 19, 2004|By Laura Vecsey | Laura Vecsey,SUN STAFF

OLYMPIA, Greece -- This, he decided, was the time.

This, for sure, was the place.

On a day when the Greeks brought the Olympics back to their ancestral home -- supplying a modern and inclusive twist by staging not only the men's shot put, but also the women's event -- a Baltimore man decided to make his girlfriend his fiancee.

Balvin Brown Jr., 25, a pharmaceutical salesman who lives in Owings Mills, knew this was exactly the right thing to do.

His girlfriend, Cleopatra Borel, 25, was competing for her homeland of Trinidad and Tobago in this historic Olympic event. He had flown here to see it, stopping in Trinidad to ask her father for his daughter's hand.

"It takes two hours to drive across the island. It took me an hour and half to finally ask him. It took 30 seconds. He said, `Sure, sure,' " Brown said.

He had it all planned, down to the two-carat diamond platinum ring that he designed specially for her at a Pikesville jewelry store.

"Her hand is almost as big as mine, so it meant a lot of diamonds," Brown said.

This, her boyfriend decided, was the place.

Marry me, he would ask her, kneeling on a grassy berm overlooking the bone-dry dirt where, 2,800 years ago, the god-inspired ancient Greeks invented something else to go along with philosophy and democracy: track and field.

Here, Brown proposed.

Five years ago, when he was throwing the discus for UMBC and she was throwing the shot put for Coppin State, Brown and Borel met at a track meet at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. Borel ended up transferring to UMBC.

"We met in track and field, and this is the top," he said.

He was awash in the late-afternoon sun as it lowered over the rocky hills and the pine trees, not to mention the emotional drain of having planned and waited.

"I decided on Valentine's Day, and I've been hiding it so long, it was killing me. It was tough to hide it," Brown said. "It made it a little easier because she trains in Blacksburg [at Virginia Tech]. But everyone in Baltimore already knew."

So yesterday, as if the proceedings weren't momentous enough, was the day.

Borel competed in the morning preliminaries, walking out into the sun-drenched valley to make Olympic history. She finished 11th, then went to watch the final women's competitors among the hundreds of spectators who flocked to the steep, hard, sun-baked hills surrounding the shot put area.

She had no idea.

"We never talked about it. We talked hypothetically, but not getting engaged," she said.

"I did the knee thing right here," he said.

"I can't believe you didn't tell my mother," she said.

"If I had, the entire island of Trinidad would have known," he said.

The young couple teased. She kissed his hand. He wrapped her in his arms.

"Last night, I prayed to let all the stress and nervousness come on me so she could relax and compete," he said.

"I think it worked. I was sick to my stomach all night. I was sleeping in a car outside the Olympia Hotel. I had to go in and sleep in the bathroom, I felt so nervous. I'm feeling better now," he said.

Soon, Brown and Borel were wrapped in the Trinidad flag, getting their pictures snapped by photographers and some of their ecstatic countrymen.

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