x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The beauty of bronze

Is bronze better than silver? You'd think so, to see the faces of some Olympians who finish second and third.

From the comfort of the living-room sofa, it's impossible to get into the mind of an Olympic athlete. Over the past week, though, we have had glimpses of the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat simply by watching the competitors' faces.

For decades, psychologists have been examining the reactions of athletes after elite sporting events. Their apparently counter-intuitive observation is that, while the gold medal winner is understandably overjoyed, the bronze medallist is often happier than the athlete who won silver. The London Games have seen, for example, US swimmer Ryan Lochte despondent at coming second in the 4x100m freestyle relay and his countryman Brendan Hansen beaming with pride at third place in the 100-metre men's breaststroke.

On the weekend, National Public Radio in the US pointed to the work of researchers Victoria Medvec, Scott Madey and Thomas Gilovich after the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. They surmised that, while silver medallists are disappointed at not coming first, bronze-medal winners "compare themselves to people who didn't win a medal at all".

There is a take-home message here for us all: any effort that produces a positive result is worth celebrating, and the fact of not coming first should not overshadow the sheer satisfaction of having done your best.