Winners and losers. It’s at the heart of the Olympics, the stuff of Olympian dreams and nightmares.
We remember the glow of gold medal winners, arms extended in victory. But just as compelling, just as memorable are the tears of those who valiantly tried, but came up short.
For those who prevail, dreams of a lifetime become reality. Cheers. Headlines. Fame. A golden medal.But for every winner in the Olympics there are legions of losers, those who have fallen short of their goal.
“There’s evidence people remember, and it can ruin lives,” said Dr. Roy Baumesiter, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University who specializes in the study of guilt. He noted that Albel Kiviat, who won the silver medal in Stockholm in 1912, was still regretting when he was 91 that he’d come in second, not first.“I wake up sometimes and say, ‘What the heck happened to me?’ It’s like a nightmare.’’
Dr. Tom Gilovich, a Cornell University psychologist who did a study last year of Olympic athletes in the ’92 Games, found that those who finished second felt worse than men and women who finished third, or lower.‘’Whatever joy the silver medalist may feel is often tempered by tortuous thoughts of what might have been had she only lengthened her stride, adjusted her breathing, pointed her toes and so on,’’ Gilovich said.
For the also-rans the cheers are hushed, the headlines bitter, fame elusive. For them there’s no golden medal to caress, to help remember a day, a moment, an instant when glory was there for the taking.And yet … isn’t there also glory in the effort? Isn’t there fame for being one of the best in the world, an Olympian among Olympians?
Won’t the tears of defeat slowly give way to pride, knowing that there was a day, an hour, a moment when the world stood still … and waited?The Olympic Games represent the noblest characteristics of mankind; but, sadly, also the worst. At the Centennial Games of Atlanta, marred by unspeakable tragedy, the good has nudged out the bad in a photo-finish.
And what of the winners and losers? For most of us, they remain the stuff of dreams, a lovely blend of Olympian beauty, grace and joy.