Second Place Is the First Loser

“Or is it?”: With the Olympics just recently behind us, there are a lot of individuals (and countries) who are celebrating their victories or cursing their defeats. I heard a comedy sketch once by Jerry Seinfeld that hit on this. His take was that it was great to get the gold because it was proof that you were better than everyone else. And it was good to get the bronze because, hey, at least you got a medal. For the guy who got silver, though, well, that’s not so good. Getting silver means that you were the first loser, the first one to get beaten.

So, why is that second isn’t often considered to be a huge achievement? Why is it that so many people consider it to be the position of prime embarassment? Or is it really perceived that way? Honestly, I think it boils down to perspective. It’s a matter of which direction you looking. Getting the silver means that you were two steps away from ultimate success, from beating the field, from standing up at the highest point and being able to say, I did it. I’m the best there is. The failure here is in not looking the other way. True, you were _this_ close to total success, but look behind you and see how many are still behind you. From that perspective silver suddenly doesn’t look so discouraging or shameful. From that perspective, it means that you are still the best in your field, save one, and that, in my opinion, is not such a bad place to finish after all.

One thought on “Second Place Is the First Loser”

  1. It all depends on the format of the particular event: In a tournament format, second place means you that lost your last game, match, etc., while in a race format you could have finished 10 seconds behind the winner but only 1/2 a second ahead of the third-place finisher, in which case the latter didn’t so much “win the bronze” as “lose the silver.”

    And here’s a little-known fact: The top eight finishers in each Olympic event receive what is officially referred to as “victory diploma” (not having actually seen one, I guess it looks like a high-school diploma or something; the top three get both this and a medal). So much for the widely-held idea that you come away with nothing if you finished fourth.

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