Fourth Place Olympic Medals? British Man Sends Pewter Medals to Those Who Just Miss the Podium

British man uses his own money to produce medals for fourth place finishers.

August 7, 2012, 3:02 PM

Aug. 7, 2012— -- Just competing in the Olympics is a victory in itself, so why do the medal winners get all the glory?

Gold, silver, bronze all get a prize, but finish fourth and you go home with nothing.

So Dave Mitchell is setting out to change that.

From his tiny bookstore in Derbyshire, England, Mitchell was reading up on Olympic history when he got to thinking: Why stop at bronze?

"I just think stopping at three is, nowadays, too soon, too early," he said. "[Fourth place finishers] are not really losers. They shouldn't be classified as a loser."

So Mitchell has been going down to his local trophy shop and forking over his own money to make and mail fourth place Olympics medals out of "something very similar to pewter."

His first medals went to Great Britain's synchronized diver Tom Daley and his partner Peter Waterfield. They were too out of synch to grab the bronze, but Mitchell had their back. He said he has sent out about one dozen pewter medals so far and has about 10 more waiting to be mailed.

"I'm trying to spread them among different nations, among different sports, so it's not all Brits," Mitchell said. "I've not had any responses yet. I don't expect a response."

Before you write off Mitchell as completely loony, consider this: It wasn't until 1904, eight years after the return of the modern Olympic games, that the third place winners were given a medal. Prior to that, only first and second place finishers received one.

So why stop there? By today's standards, if your child plays a sport, often the whole team will get a participation award. But Dr. Michael Gervais, a high performance psychologist with Pinnacle Performance , said awarding a medal to Olympians who place fourth is going too far.

"There should not be a fourth place medal," he said. "If anything, we should be going the other way."

Gervais works with some of the top American athletes competing in the 2012 London Games, including beach volleyball gold medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor. He believes that only the best of the best should be rewarded for their triumphs.

"It's a dog eat dog world. It's intense and achievement matters and that is what is in our DNA," Gervais said. "Our ancestors showed us and taught us that refinement of skill matters. It's what keeps us alive."

That competitive spirit can be so extreme among Olympians that a Cornell psychology study, which looked at Olympic medalists in 1995, found that it was easier on athletes to come in third place than second place. Olympic athletes who earned a bronze medal, when they would have otherwise gone home empty handed, felt better than athletes who won the silver and knew they had missed the gold.

But Gervais said that loss is good for us and pushes us to try harder. Some past and present Olympians seemed to agree.

"I don't know if everyone needs a medal," said four-time swimming medalist Summer Sanders. "Showing up for competitions and for practice, they deserve a good job, but not everyone needs a participation medal."

Ten-time Olympic swimming medalist Gary Hall, Jr. shared her sentiment, saying, "You need tragedy to help you grow. Where would you stop?"

And even some of those who have yet to bring home a medal seem to be against giving out more.

"I would hate it if I got fourth and got a medal, I would think it was a pity medal," said superheavyweight Olympian Holly Mangold. "A fourth place medal would be a beer and saying sorry. I would rather get fifth than fourth because fourth you were right there."

Nonetheless, Dave Mitchell said he isn't giving up on awarding athletes with fourth place medals and is willing to stand alone until there is one more "winner" on the medal stand.

"If you imagine the Olympic podium, the bronze medalist has now got a mate, someone to hug," he said. "Should we recommend it to Rio?"

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