There may be only one instance when finishing in the top four among the world's finest athletes may be worst than finishing dead last: The Olympic Games.
Unlike youth soccer, fourth place in the Olympics doesn't include a tiny "good effort" trophy. You don't get a mini medal or a mini flag. You get stuck watching the three athletes in front of you stand on a podium with hefty medals around their necks.
In the first week of the London Olympic Games, Boulder's Taylor Phinney had this happen...twice. The 22-year-old professional cyclist missed being on the podium twice with a pair of fourth place finishes.
Saturday's soggy 250-kilometer (about 155 miles) men's road race forced racers to push up the Box Hill climb nine times before hammering back into central London. By the final trip up the climb, Phinney's legs had cramped up, but he said the encouragement of his teammates helped propel him over the top. The finish, near Buckingham Palace, had Phinney in the front group chasing the eventual gold and silver winners, Kazakhstan’s Alexandr Vinokurov and Columbia's Rigoberto Uran Uran. Phinney and Norway's Alexander Kristoff clocked the exact same time—just eight seconds off the gold medal—but Kristoff's tire tread inched out Phinney's sending the Norwegian to the podium. Phinney was left to watch. "Fourth seems like it would be nice," Phinney told the Denver Post after the race, "but it's the worst place you can imagine at the Olympic Games. It makes you more hungry, that's for sure. But it's definitely disappointing."
Phinney's second chance came in Wednesday's time trial, but that pesky Tour de France winner thwarted his efforts. Again, Phinney came in fourth, just under two minutes behind Great Britain's Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins gets to add a gold accessory to his yellow jersey, and Phinney goes home empty-handed. Obviously upset with his finishes, Phinney understands the wait time until he'll get another shot at the podium. “This is the Olympics!” Phinney told VeloNews. “This only happens every four years. I don’t remember who got fourth place four years ago!"
It may be a little early for Phinney and his fans to see a bright side, but two things come to mind. He did finish fourth, twice, contending with some of the world's strongest riders in two different disciplines. And, if the road race's gold medal winner's age says anything—Vinokurov is 38 years old—Phinney's days on two wheels are far from over. Could we see him later this month in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge?
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock