Gold, silver, bronze and fourth

Q. What do these people have in common?

Rares Dumitrescu

Stepanka HIlgertova

Rick Van der Ven





A. They are each Olympians, though their names may not be familiar to you unless you’re a hard-core fencing,  kayak or archery fan. And each one placed fourth in an event in which they’d competed.

A recent Chicago Trib article profiled another fourth place finisher, rower Sarah Zelenka, who called her fourth-place finish “a nightmare”. Watching Jordyn Wieber’s agony-of-defeat moment in the gymnastics individual all-around competition when she learned that she’d placed fourth got me thinking about all of those men and women who’d trained just as hard as the gold, silver and bronze medalists, but had fallen short of their goal in this competition. In some cases, an infintesimal sliver of time, space or the seemingly-subjective stroke of a judge’s pen in a scored event means that someone comes in fourth.

A word to these fourth-place finishers, especially in sports where there are no Wheaties boxes or Gatorade endorsement deals, where athletes are doing what they do because they can’t imagine doing anything else with their lives and where they’ve sacrificed time, money and comfort for years for their Olympic moment:

You are winners, you fourth-place finishers. It is not your result that inspires me. It is the fact that you were willing to practice in obscurity for years so that you could pursue your goal. When the raw moments of your thisclose finish begin to fade, I hope you can be proud of the fact that there are only three people in the world who performed better than you in this competition. Your Olympic dream carried you to the world stage, and I hope that the sense of “nightmare” fades as you move into whatever is next in your life next week and beyond.

I am a writer. Not a famous, New York Times Bestseller kind of writer, but a person who just keep working at my craft. I think (I hope) I am a better writer than I was five or ten or twenty years ago because I keep showing up at practice every day, just like you did in your run up to the Olympics. I have moments of sorrow, envy or fatigue when I see my peers “medal”, achieving success as it is measured in my vocational world, while I come in fourth or thirteenth or dead last.

Your example reminds me that perseverance is the real prize. Thanks.

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5 thoughts on “Gold, silver, bronze and fourth”

  1. Michelle, love your post. I’ve received several EPA awards over the years and they have all been…wait for it…4th place finishes! I joke with my husband that I seem destined to be the perennial 4th-place level of writer. And this is nothing even remotely close to the level of accomplishment of 4th-place Olympians! But regardless, your words ring true: it’s ultimately not about the placement (which is always out of our control anyway as artists), but about the perseverance, and about aiming to be better today than we were yesterday, or when we slip backwards, continuing to press forward. Appreciate your wise words! (You’re gold, in my opinion!)

  2. Thanks, Helen! And for what it’s worth, you’re far from a 4th place writer, even if the EPA folks have assessed a few pieces of your work as such. 🙂

  3. One thing I think the Olympics do well is honoring those who don’t come in first. Silver and Bronze medals mean something to the fans and most of the athletes. It’s too bad that the recognition stops there. Sure, there’s lip service to honoring every athlete who competes but it rings hollow to me.

    Thank you for showing us how God honors everyone no matter what place we might find ourselves in, Michelle. Like Hebrews 12 says, the point is to finish the race. It doesn’t say we have to get Gold, Silver or Bronze.


  4. What a wonderful reminder of what God honors. I’m so thankful He takes last-place finishers and the scraggly middle too!

  5. Thanks, Tim and Annie!

    It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush to watch the sprinters, but the marathoners are the ones that re-enact our faith journey, aren’t they?

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