Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Washington Post Features

August 6, 2012

At Olympics, fourth place is cruelest fate of all

LONDON — When the wind whipped across Lord's Cricket Ground Thursday, wobbling the arrow fired from the bow of Khatuna Lorig and sending it well wide of her target, there was little else to do but weep. Lorig, a Georgian-born American archer pursuing an Olympic medal in a sport in which the U.S. rarely excels, has worked through five Olympics over 20 years. She was in the bronze medal match. And she lost.

"There was a lot of tears, a lot of regrets, a lot of rewinding in my mind," Lorig said some 24 hours later. "Why did it happen?"

When the London Olympics end in a week, an even 1,000 medals will have been awardedto individuals and teams, testimonies to the years of work that went into it all. There will also be 240 stories like Lorig's, those of athletes and teams who have put in the same work, the same hours, the same sacrifice — yet finish fourth, negligibly missing the medal podium and thus without a glistening piece of gold or silver or bronze to wear home.

Lorig's fate happens to all sorts of athletes in every sport, often by the tiniest margins and with all manner of ramifications. The American men's eight rowing team placed fourth here — by three-hundredths of a second. Michael Phelps, who now has a record 22 Olympic medals, would have 23 had he swum the 400-meter individual medley two-thirds of a second faster. Reese Hoffa solidified his standing in American track and field annals when, on his final turn, he put the shot 21.23 meters, good enough to win bronze. Noted further down the page: Hoffa's heave cost American Christian Cantwell a medal of his own - by four centimeters.

Medals have been won and lost here both by performance and protest, by obvious decisions and obscure rules. And whether the athletes realize it or not, their lives have changed because of it.

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