Fourth so often honourable
On the opening day of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, four New Zealanders finished fourth.
There was the general wailing about it being the worst place to finish – you know, all that effort and no medal to show for it.
But that’s too simplistic. Sometimes fourth is not too bad at all, and it can even be a place of honour.
The quartet of fourth placegetters on that first day in Glasgow were swimmer Lauren Boyle in the 200m freestyle, the women’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay team, triathlete Andrea Hewitt and 500m individual time trial cyclist Stephanie McKenzie.
Boyle said afterwards: ‘‘ I’m happy with that. I wasn’t ranked anywhere near a medal coming in, so fourth is good.’’
She was looking ahead to her favoured longer distance events and felt buoyed by her fourth placing.
The relay swimmers also didn’t seem too dejected – they were never expected to beat powerhouses Australia, England and Canada.
I thought Hewitt’s fourth was incredibly honourable. She was out on her feet in the heat and really struggled with the hilly course. She’d lose contact with the leaders and fight her way back.
It was indeed a pity she had no medal to show for all her grit.
Fourth place has sometimes been very honourable for New Zealand in sport.
Pero Cameron and his Tall Blacks basketballers were fourth at the 2002 world championships in Indianapolis, two places ahead of the United States, and returned home as conquering heroes.
On the other hand, John Hart’s All Blacks were fourth at the 1999 Rugby World Cup – beaten by France and South Africa – and were savaged on their return.
In 1968, the New Zealand rowing eight were pre-Olympic favourites. They led for much of the final, but crumbled towards the end, really struggling to cope with the thin atmosphere at Mexico City’s altitude.
They faded to fourth and were devastated. Some required medical attention. Fourth was no triumph for them.
Equestrian Andrew Nicholson has been competing in Olympic Games since 1984.
He seemed sure to win his first individual Olympic medal at the 2012 London Olympics, but felt he was poorly served by the dressage officials in the three-day event.
Eventually he finished fourth and professed himself ‘‘ gutted’’ with the result.
I never spoke to Rob Waddell after he and Nathan Cohen finished fourth in the double sculls at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but I’m sure he would have shared Nicholson’s feelings.
Waddell won a single sculls gold medal in 2000 and made a big effort to come back for 2008. It’s a fair bet he wasn’t putting his body through all that training torture again with a goal of fourth.
But don’t write off fourth as a disappointment.
For proof, look no further than New Zealand freeskier Jossi Wells at this year’s winter Olympics in Sochi.
He finished fourth in the halfpipe event and afterwards amused onlookers by shouting: ‘‘I’m the guy who finished fourth!’’ and then letting out a huge King Kong-style yell.
To anyone still unsure how he felt, Wells explained: ‘‘ Fourth place is pretty cool.’’
Wells’ vociferous reaction briefly became a YouTube hit and stands as proof that sometimes fourth place can be a very joyful experience.
Nearly there: Swimmer Lauren Boyle finished fourth in the 200m freestyle at Glasgow.