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Why Placing 4th Or 5th At The Olympics Can Be Demoralizing

08/11/2012 11:29 EDT | Updated 10/11/2012 05:12 EDT
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Close, but no medal — it's a bitter pill that a number of Canadian athletes at the London Games had to swallow, overshadowing the fact that their performances ranked among the best on the planet.

Finishing in the top five among the best athletes in the world seems like quite an accomplishment. It comes with personal pride and inevitable pats on the back.

But aside from British bookshop owner David Mitchell — who decided to produce and send medals to many Olympic athletes who finished in fourth place — falling short of the top three means no medal, no physical proof of the accomplishment, no matter how close the athlete came.

Canada currently sits in 33rd place at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, with a total of 18 medals comprised of one gold, five silvers and 12 bronzes.

With two more days of the games to go, Canada has also had six fourth-place finishes and eight fifth-place finishes.

While it might seem like a decent place to land in the ranks of the best of the best, some sports psychologists have said that a fourth or fifth place finish is one of the worst places an athlete can find themselves.

Though it might seem illogical to view a fourth place rank as worse than a seventh or fifteenth, it's the fact that these high-performance competitors feel just shy of their ultimate goals that researchers say can make it hurt the most.

A 1992 study, led by Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University, examined a similar phenomenon. By reviewing footage of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and later the 1994 Empire State Games, the team found that despite having a lesser prize, bronze winners were — on average — happier than those who won silver.

It's what the psychologists called "counterfactual" thinking, adding that many of those who won silver viewed it as falling short of their ultimate goal of winning gold. In contrast, those who won bronze often thought of their standing on the podium as the relief of finishing with a medal at all.

But beyond the top three finishers in an event, the feeling of accomplishment tends to crash. For those who finished just shy of the podium, the feeling is far worse than the disappointment of getting silver.

Here's a list of Canadian teams and athletes that finished among the top five in the games but went home without a medal and the recognition that comes with it:

Fourth place finishes

- Alexandra Bruce and Michelle Li ranked fourth in badminton – women's doubles

- Samantha Cheverton, Barbara Jardin, Brittany MacLean and Amanda Reason placed fourth in swimming – 4x200m freestyle relay

- Karen Cockburn ranked fourth in women's trampoline

- Marie-Pier Boudreau Gagnon and Elise Marcotte ranked fourth in synchronized swimming – duet

- Marie-Pier Boudreau Gagnon, Stéphanie Durocher, Jo-Annie Fortin, Chloé Isaac Stéphanie Leclair, Tracy Little, Élise Marcotte, Karine Thomas and Valerie Welsh placed fourth in synchronized swimming – team

- Tara Whitten got fourth in cycling – women's omnium

Fifth place finishes

- Dylan Armstrong ranked fifth in shot put

- Elsabeth Black, Victoria Moors, Dominique Pegg, Brittany Rogers and Kristina Vaculik placed fifth in gymnastics –women's team all-around

- Martine Dugrenier ranked fifth in Women's Freestyle Wrestling – 63 kg

- Tiffany Foster, Jill Henselwood, Eric Lamaze and Ian Millar placed fifth in equestrian –team jumping

- Burnaby wrestler Matt Gentry placed fifth in the men's freestyle 74-kg division

- Clara Hughes finished fifth in cycling – women's time trial

- Martha McCabe placed fifth in swimming – women's 200m breaststroke

- Damian Warner ranked fifth in the decathlon

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