I guess there's some truth to the phrase "second place is the first loser." Olympians have been shown to be much more satisfied with a bronze than a silver, even though it's clearly the Jan Brady of medals.
Science! Is there anything it can't do? The first study, conducted by Cornell researchers observing the 1992 Barcelona games, appears to hold up today. Consider Evgeny Plushenko, probably at this very moment still bitching to someone that he should have beat Evan Lyscek. He's even gone so far as to award himself the wholly made-up "Platinum Medal" on his web site.
Meanwhile, third place finisher Daisuke Takahashi was "so emotional I was in tears."
It's all due to how painful it is to get so close but not win:
When you come in second," said Thomas Gilovich, chairman of Cornell's psychology department and one of the study's co-authors, "it's the most natural thing in the world to look upward. 'I got the silver and that's what it is, but what is it not? It's not the gold.'
Do the results hold up on a larger scale? Yes! Look at the medal standings, and you'll see the Germans with the most silvers, and the USA with the most bronzes. And as we all know, Germans are dour, mirthless golems, while Americans are happy-go-lucky souls, driven by the twin engines of optimism and manifest destiny.
But does it pass the personal smell test? Last year, I finished
third on Jeopardy! Was I happier than the second place finisher? Well, no, because she won double the consolation prize money. Bad example.