Contestants that get kicked off “Survivor” on their very first week will get a publicist and an agent to paw through their offers to appear on morning shows and at state fairs. It gets even stranger if you compare someone who comes in second at the Olympics to, say, the 71st best TV sportscaster in the country, who is treated like the Sun King. He doesn’t have to be first, second or third best. He just has to be on TV. People take him to lunch, they send him trinket-loaded swag bags and he plays free rounds of pro-am golf at all the best courses. He gets asked for autographs and begged to heal sick relatives with his magic touch. But he thinks that the guy who comes in third in the downhill is a bum — someone who didn’t try hard enough.
Now, don’t misunderstand me: I’m not for lowering the standards of sports. Trying your hardest and never giving up are admirable qualities, but most of us do that every single day without expecting a medal for it. For the gold, you can’t just be good at something — you have to be the best. Most gold medalists win by remarkable margins; they dominate their competition.
If Phelps and Cavic had tied, Phelps still would have come home with a remarkable and record-breaking eight gold medals — a performance that may never be duplicated. Killy would still have the three golds he won in 1968 as well as a couple of World Cups. Nothing would change for those two, but it might have for their competitors.
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life,” “Baby’s First Tattoo” and “Now in Paperback.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.