SPORTS BEAT by Kelly Almond—New attitude on fourth-place needed for Vancouver 2010

Gold, silver, or bronze is the dream of all athletes heading to the Olympic Games.

Or at least, it is for most athletes.

It seems that for some Canadian athletes their goal was not necessarily to stand on the podium, but to at least come close. This complacent attitude is typically Canadian, and needs to be changed to ensure a stellar, podium-worthy performance at Vancouver 2010.

Canadian alpine-skier Fran-çois Bourque was aiming to finish in the top five in the men’s giant slalom. When he finished fourth he was more than happy with the outcome, and his teammate Thomas Grandi described it as an “outstanding result.” And it’s not just the athletes who are content with losing.

Canada as a whole seemed generally pleased with fourth-place finishes. Just as well, I suppose, since we had the most fourth-place finishes by any country in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Fourteen to be exact.

Much of the commentary by Canadians focused on the ‘outstanding’ achievements of the fourth-place finishers. But is fourth place really that outstanding?

While a personal best is certainly an important part of any competition, that kind of commentary should be reserved for gold medal winners.

In the two-person women’s bobsleigh, Helen Upperton and Heather Moyse placed a close fourth behind Italy. In an interview after the race, Upperton said, “People say fourth place isn’t the best place to end up but I think we’re really happy.”

Certainly they should be happy, but the people who say that fourth isn’t the best place are correct. A place on the podium would be best.

Fourth place is decidedly not outstanding, and it became increasingly annoying to hear it described as such during this year’s Olympics.

Canadians, it seemed, were just happy to be there, and this mentality needs to be changed in order to gain the mental edge necessary for Vancouver 2010.

Fortunately there are some Canadian athletes who called their fourth-place finish by its true name. “Fourth place is the worst. It’s like being the first loser,” said Erik Guay, another alpine skier who finished fourth in the men’s super G. Instead of patting himself on the back, Guay plans on using that finish to fuel his passion for a medal in 2010.

Unfortunately this attitude was not shared by all Canadian athletes — at least not publicly.

Fourth is commendable, but it is neither exceptional, nor outstanding. In fact, the number four in the Chinese art of feng shui symbolizes the most unlucky number because its name, when spoken in Cantonese sounds like the word death.

Perhaps fittingly for Canadians, the number four in numerology represents practicality, order, loyalty and an even-temper. That pretty much sums up the ‘happy to be here’ mentality that was evident with the positive reception each time an athlete placed fourth.

Granted, Canadians’ third-place finish in the overall medal count is outstanding. And while fourth place is not, the fact that so many of Canada’s athletes placed so close to the podium is a good indicator for Vancouver 2010 — but not if they continue to be complacent about it.

As long as all of those fourth-place finishers can use the disappointment to fuel their next performance in Vancouver, Canada should be set for a truly ‘outstanding’ Winter Olympics.