The ugliest words in the Olympics are fourth place. Nothing even comes close, and when fourth place is accompanied by a margin of .03 of a second, fourth place becomes the worst neighborhood in town.
Americans Todd Hays and Garrett Hines finished fourth in the two-man bobsled, extending America's 46-year medal drought in the sport.
Hays, a former Ultimate Fighting guy, put it on himself to get the Americans back on the podium, but after four runs he and Hines missed by about the length of a finger.
The German team, driven by bobsled legend Christopher Langen (four Olympic medals, two golds) won the gold after entering the final run tied with Switzerland-1. Switzerland-2 won bronze.
"I thought we put a good enough margin on them," Hays said. "I thought I had a bronze, but you can't make mistakes against the Germans and the Swiss. I don't want a lucky win. I want a legitimate win."
Hays began his Salt Lake Olympic experience with a press conference in which he melodramatically presented a slew of nutritional drinks and foods that could contain banned supplements. The diatribe, directed at the IOC, was his response to the pre-Olympic suspension of his pusher, Pavle Jovanovic.
Sunday, he was more gracious in disappointment than he had been in anger. He blamed the loss on one poor start Saturday and gave credit to bronze-medal driver Martin Annen of Switzerland-2.
"If I had two runs yesterday (in the first round) like I had today, I'd be in the medals," Hays said. "If I wasn't competing against the Germans and the Swiss, I'd be real proud of them."
Asked if the Olympics would leave more bad memories than good, Hays said, "No. No. I'm proud to be here."
The fourth-place stories are often the best stories. The guys who finish one step from the medals stand usually have more to say than anyone else.
Either that or, like Hines, they choose to go away and say nothing at all. As Hays was talking to the media and explaining the disappointment that comes with the lost .03 of a second, Hines was jumping on a truck with his sled and heading off into the night.
"I don't know if there's a worse place in sports than fourth place in the Olympics," Hays said. "This is going to sting for a long time."
Tim Keown writes for ESPN The Magazine.