A column in today's Washington Post by Shankar Vedantam poses that question and comes to a surprising conclusion. Citing previous research, the author concludes that for Olympians bronze is oftentimes better than silver. An athlete's reaction to any medal, however, is all based on their expectations.
Look at the case of U.S. swimmer Dara Torres. The 41-year old returned from an eight year retirement to train for Beijing with the express purpose of winning a gold medal. When she was awarded her silver medal after losing in the 50m freestyle by .01 seconds, Torres looked disgusted. Her expectations were not met.
Conversely, in the women's eight rowing event, The Netherlands caught race favorite Romania from behind in the final meters to finish second. The silver medalists looked as happy as they would have had they won gold. Their expectations -- to medal -- were exceeded.
It's actually pretty simple: if an athlete is set on winning gold, receiving any other medal will be a disappointment. If the goal is to merely win a medal, then any shade provides happiness. And you don't need psychology reports to figure that one out.
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