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Fourth-place Olympians get IOC diploma, but showing it off might be ‘kind of dorky’

Neate Sager
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Canada's Justin Snith (left), Samuel Edney (in blue) and Tristan Walker commiserate after finishing fourth in the …

Apparently, fourth-place finishers at the Olympics get a little recognition from the IOC. For some odd reason, many competitors' memory of being recognized for finishing between fourth and eighth in an event are foggier than the some of Sochi 2014 venues at this writing.

There is a perception that competitors who just miss the bronze medal get nothing, except the experience. Last week, Canada's sore lugers had had four top-five results but the country's first medal in the event eluded their grasp. Alex Gough and Kimberly McRae finished fourth and fifth in women's singles, then Justin Snith and Tristan Walker were fourth in men's doubles. Finally, the relay team Samuel Edney, Gough, Snith and Walker also left with a hearts full of ache and heads full of what-ifs. Au contraire, they get something, sort of. It does hinge on big ifs. That might include the IOC having their current mailing address, along with the reliability of Canada Post.

From Sam Borden:

Few are familiar with the manner in which the International Olympic Committee is honoring the competitors who finish fourth through eighth at the Sochi Games ... The near-medalists — and a few not-so-near-medalists — receive a personally inscribed, autopen-signed, formal Olympic diploma.

“It’s kind of like the one you get for participation,” said Mercedes Nicoll, a Canadian snowboarder who finished sixth in the women’s halfpipe competition at the Vancouver Games in 2010 and was given such a certificate. “It’s really nice. I mean, it’s not the same as medaling, of course. I know some athletes who win medals like to show them around to everyone, but I don’t do that. It’s a piece of paper. I think that would be kind of dorky.”

Nicoll, who added that she was surprised — and touched — when she received her diploma, is seemingly a rarity among athletes in that she knows about the diplomas at all. Most athletes and officials queried said they were aware of the various other certificates the I.O.C. distributes — volunteers, committee officials and any athlete who makes a country’s Olympic team receive an embossed acknowledgment of their role in the Games — yet admitted ignorance when it came to the diploma. (The New York Times)

So there is that.

What Borden found is that many competitors "said that they never received a diploma or, if they did, that they had no idea where it was now. Others said they were handed the diploma by a member of their national organizing committee at some point after their competition was over. A few said they received the diplomas and appreciated the gesture, even if they did not totally understand it." The IOC's story is that it has done this since the first modern Olympics in 1896, and they're sticking to it. Diplomas have gone anyone who places in the top eight since the 1984 Olympics.

So why wouldn't competitors remember getting a piece of paper that recognizes their accomplishments? It doesn't take a diploma in dollar-store psychology to theorize that finishing just out of the medals after years of sacrifice and self-deprivation and striving is a shock to the system. An athlete's thoughts are a jumble in those first hours after her/his competition ends. In many cases, that also puts the lid on a life phase. The focus is on winning a medal, so amid the hubbub and tumult of the Olympics, who's going to remember being handed a diploma for coming seventh? It's a little something, you know, for the effort, but it's pretty thin gruel.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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