Is a bronze medal better than silver?

 

Of course everyone wants to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games.

Not many athletes are going just to make up the numbers although the story of Britain’s Eddie the Eagle certainly brings home the fact that just getting to compete at the Olympic Games is a huge achievement (as an aside here I was talking to the Olympic attaché for The Gambia recently – about power adapters, of all things – who told me a great story about their swimmer known as Eric the Eel)

However it seems that if you are a serious medal prospect and not the Jamaican bobsleigh team, you may be much better off winning bronze rather than silver if you miss out on gold. Video and statistical research done at the 1992 summer Olympics in Barcelona showed that both immediately after winning, as well as later at the medal ceremony, bronze medallists were visibly happier than the silver medallists

Psychologists Victoria Medvec and Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University, and Scott Madey of the University of Toledo think that this phenomenon can be explained by the phenomenon of ‘counterfactual thinking’ whereby the silver medallist believes they have ‘lost the gold’ whereas the bronze medallist perceives that they ended up on the podium, rather than in fourth place

In Hong Kong (Beijing 2008 Olympics) the Australian team led after the first day’s dressage competition, and were a close second after the cross country, but could not quite make up the leeway in the show jumping, losing to the German team by a slender margin.

“It was actually quite a hollow feeling standing on the podium thinking, ‘We’ve let this slip by’,” says Shane Rose. “I think all of us looked at each other and thought, ’Next time we’ll go one better’.”

Keep an eye out for the silver medallists in Rio – see what you think, do they look disappointed?