Olympic-sized proposal



Justin Spring speaks at the 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars at Assembly Hall on Wednesday. Spring gave his girlfriend a surprise proposal that night. Erica Magda

By Meghan Montemurro

U.S. Olympic gymnast Justin Spring has performed in front of sold-out arenas and appeared on millions of televisions across the world.

But on Wednesday night, in front of only a few thousand people at the Tour of Gymnastics Superstars’ stop at Assembly Hall, Spring may have had the most important performance of his lifetime – proposing to his girlfriend of almost five years, Tori Tanney.

“I think it went perfect. It went better than I could have asked for,” Spring said. “I swore that she knew, but she had no idea, so the surprise was perfect and her parents made it down. I had the ring for so long, I couldn’t wait to just give it to her. The whole day I’d been a nervous wreck, but it all went perfect.”

Tanney, a 2006 Illinois graduate and current graduate student at the University, was completely surprised by Spring’s proposal. Tanney said that while she and Spring had discussed marriage, she was not expecting to wear a diamond ring when she walked out of Assembly Hall that night.


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Olympic gymnasts perform at Assembly Hall

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“I’d thought (the proposal) would be during Thanksgiving or Christmas because our families are meeting actually for the first time because his parents are from D.C.,” Tanney said after Wednesday’s event. “So at Christmas they are meeting, and I’m, like, ‘That would be a good time,’ or Thanksgiving because we’re going to his parents’ place or we’re even going to Mexico a week after Christmas, so I didn’t expect it at all.”

Spring had put the plan in motion months ahead of time.

“I’ve been planning this pretty much since the Olympics,” Spring said. “I knew I was going to propose after the Olympics; I didn’t know exactly when, but when this opportunity came up, I was like, ‘This is perfect. I can play this into the show.'”

Spring said he worked with the production crew to put the proposal together, and they were “more than happy” to help out.

To throw off any suspicions Tanney may have had with the pending proposal, Spring told her that at each gymnast’s hometown, he or she goes on-stage to talk.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” Tanney said of Spring’s pre-proposal talk with the crowd. “And then he mentioned me and then I was like, ‘Wait, why is he still talking about this?’ And I looked over to my sister and she was crying already and then I start crying. I really don’t remember much of what happened.”

Tuesday night Spring contemplated for what he said was a split second about the possibility of Tanney saying no to his proposal, but he knew when the time came, she would say yes.

“I even told her after I asked her and she said yes I was like, ‘God, I was so nervous,'” Spring said. “The whole moment was kind of a blur.”

Tanney’s parents, Wayne and Nanci, acted as the Fort Knox of secret keeping for Spring. When Tanney turned around and saw her parents in the stands at Assembly Hall, she said the moment became even more special. Wayne and Nanci drove to Champaign from their Chicago home on Wednesday in order to watch Spring’s proposal.

And while Tanney was conscious of the crowd, the North Riverside, Ill., native remained focus on the moment.

“We were both shaking and he was, like, ‘I don’t know where this goes!'” Tanney said of when Spring gave her the engagement ring.

Spring and Tanney began dating their sophomore year in college. Tanney’s roommate that year was “kind of” dating Spring’s best friend and roommate when the two first met. Tanney said she thought Spring was a nice guy, but thought “he was short.”

“I don’t date short guys,” Tanney said. “And then the more I got to know him, the more I’m, like, ‘He’s amazing. He’d be a great boyfriend, a great guy.’ And then I thought, ‘I’m being really shallow about this,’ and then five years later we’re engaged!”

Tanney said they broke up for about six months after graduation when she was working in Chicago while Spring remained in Champaign.

Christina, Tanney’s 20-year-old sister, said she was left out of the loop when it came to Spring’s plan because her family thought she would tell someone.

“I didn’t know about it all until about five minutes before when somebody asked me if I knew about something, and I was just, ‘What are you talking about?’ And then I had an idea. I was crying, but I was really excited though.”

Nanci Tanney said she had known about Spring’s plan since the tour made its stop in Chicago on Oct. 15 when he revealed his plans to ask Tanney to marry him. Nanci thought her future son-in-law did well on-stage Wednesday night, despite being a wreck while watching the proposal.

“Justin likes to do things big,” Nanci said. “And we knew it was coming … but when he told us that he was going to do it like this, Justin does things big.”

Now, with the tour set to end Nov. 16 in Kansas City, Mo., Spring looks forward to returning to Champaign.

“It’s been amazing, it’s been a great experience,” Spring said of the Tour. “I am more than ready to come home, especially now and get back with the (Illinois) team and be at my house, be with my girl, my dog.”

With the Illinois men’s gymnastics season scheduled to begin Dec. 5 with the Mixed Pairs Meet at Huff Hall, Spring will trade in his leotard and chalk for khakis with an orange and blue polo and a clipboard.

“I think once again we are definitely going to be top three,” Spring said of the Illini. “I miss being with the team I grew to love, and we’ve got a great group of guys. I’ve done my individual stuff now, and I can’t wait to get back and help the team out.”