Fourth place is no place. Twentieth place is better. At least 20th place lets you sleep at night. Do you know what .12 of a second does to your REM sleep? Fourth place is back to your parents' bagel shop, maybe finishing your degree at Walla Walla Business School.
Remember, in 1994, when Tonya Harding's husband hired thugs to put a few runs in Nancy Kerrigan's hose? Who can say the madness didn't spring from Kerrigan's having finished third and Harding fourth at the '92 Games? Now the bronze medalist is a skating diva, married to her agent, the mother of a five-year-old son and a multimillionaire. The fourth-place finisher is a failed wrestling manager who was just evicted for not making rent.
Fourth place is cruel. In 1972 Finnish cross-country skier Juha Mieto missed the bronze by .06 of a second. It's lucky he wasn't skiing the biathlon, because Juha might have shot someone—possibly Juha.
This year the USOC is paying $25,000 to gold medalists, $15,000 to silver and $10,000 to bronze. Fourth place gets a crummy piece of paper that looks like a certificate an eight-year-old would get for playing on an Elks Club soccer team. It reads, "For your participation and sportsmanship at the XIX Olympic Winter Games." Says American freestyle skier Jonny Moseley, who finished fourth last week, "It's like, Congratulations! You completed the Olympics!"
All that fourth place gets you is to a doping control station. The IOC tests the first-through fourth-place finishers. That means, you, Mr. Fourth Place, have to wait an hour while the three heroes get their medals and kisses and slobbering press conferences. Then you get to go inside a little room with that giddy threesome—all of whom are celebrating the greatest day of their lives, thanks to the fact they finished ahead of you—and pee. With somebody watching.
Maybe fourth place just needs a good p.r. firm. After all, two of the coolest guys in Olympic history, Dan Jansen and Steve Prefontaine, finished fourth. What fourth place really needs is its own medal—something symbolic, something that reflects the feeling you get the rest of your life as it hangs around your neck.
Is lead taken?