Aug. 1, 2012
Tiffany (Ofili) Porter knew it instantly.
Before the dramatic diving finish across the line and before the official times were posted on the stadium scoreboard, she knew that her husband, Jeff Porter, would be joining her in London.
"I went running down from the top of the stands before they even put the official results on the board," said Tiffany, "because I knew he had made it. I was just screaming and crying, and people were looking at me like 'What is wrong with this lady?' I tried to run out there onto the track, but they stopped me, so after he did his victory lap, I was finally able to give him a hug. It was just such a joyous experience."
She had traveled to the U.S. Olympic Trials at Oregon's Hayward Field in June to surprise her husband. Tiffany had recently returned stateside after competing in the British team trials -- and confirming her 100-meter hurdles selection to the Great Britain Olympic team -- the previous week and was not planning to attend his meet. But the night before he was scheduled to compete in the 110-meter hurdles final, there was a knock on his hotel door.
"It's about 10:30 at night," said Jeff, "and I'm trying to get ready to go to sleep. I opened the door, and it's Tiffany standing there. That made my heart jump. I was so confused. I kept asking, 'How did you get here? How did you pull this off?' That was an incredible experience and then having my family with us, you can't have it any better than that."
Jeff Porter was an unexpected qualifier to the U.S. Olympic Team. Ranked sixth going into the trials with a personal-best time of 13.26, he ran progressively better in each round, clocking a 13:19 in the semifinals before shattering that time with a 13.08 in the final -- the fourth-fastest time in the world this year -- to lock up third place and the final spot on the team.
Tiffany, on the other hand, was long considered a favorite to make Great Britain's Olympic team after breaking the 15-year-old national hurdles record last summer. A dual citizen since birth, Tiffany's mother, Lilian, was born in London, where she met and lived with her husband, Felix Ofili, who was born in Nigeria, before moving to the United States. Tiffany switched her allegiance in 2010 and has since emerged as one of Britain's top Olympic medal contenders. She owns the fifth-fastest time in the world this year (12.65).
The Porters first met as student-athletes at Michigan. Jeff was a junior when Tiffany arrived in Ann Arbor in 2006, and despite a rocky start, they began dating later that year. They shared in each other's collegiate successes. Jeff was an NCAA champion in the 60-meter hurdles and won three Big Ten individual crowns, while Tiffany was a five-time NCAA champion in the 60- and 100-meter events, highlighting the most decorated career in Wolverine program history. They were married in May 2011.
After six years together, they laugh over the fact that Tiffany didn't initially care much for her future husband.
"Oh yeah, she thought I was loud and obnoxious," said Jeff, "because I had such an energetic personality. Once she started to get to know me she realized that she and I have pretty similar personalities. But back then, she always used to tell people, 'I can't stand that boy.' I like to joke that she still tells that to me now."
Over time, Tiffany started to realize that all those attributes that she once found annoying are the things she appreciates most about him.
"We just grow and learn about each other more and more every day," she said. "We just celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary, and people ask me 'What has changed since you've been married?" But since I've known him for so long and we've been together for so long, it's like I'm married to my best friend. We're just growing every single day and kind of rolling with the punches and supporting each other through all the good and hard times."
Their similar lifestyles and aspirations have provided a unique commonality in their marriage. They understand the pressure, the ups and downs of competition and the stress of injuries and living out of a suitcase for months at a time. Sometimes it's just reassuring to be around someone who gets what you're going through.
They try to leave track business on the track, but it doesn't always work. The competitiveness stays with them, whether it's with bowling, miniature golf or a basketball shooting contest at their Canton home.
"There's so much trash talk in my house," said Jeff. "People like to ask me, 'When is winning an Olympic medal -- silver or bronze -- not good enough? When your wife wins gold.' But could you imagine that? That would be a great experience."
They will certainly share in their Olympic experience together. After her holding camp in Portugal and his in Birmingham they will reconvene in London and have the opportunity to spend time in the athlete village. Tiffany will take the track first, with the first round of the 100-meter hurdles scheduled for Aug. 6. Jeff's quest will begin a day later.
"Having him in London adds tremendously to my own Olympic experience," said Tiffany. "We feed off of each other. Seeing him qualify and see his dreams come to fruition, that inspired me. It was just the little extra fire I needed. I'm going to try to replicate that type of performance. The story isn't over yet. Now we're going to go out there and try to bring some hardware home."
"The perfect scenario," added Jeff, "would be if she wins gold the day before I win gold."