Which Fourth-Place Finishers Are Eyeing Redemption At The Rio Olympics?

By Peggy Shinn | Aug. 28, 2015, 4:17 p.m. (ET)
Taylor Phinney competes in the individual time trial during stage five of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge on Aug. 21, 2015 in Breckenridge, Colo.


At the London 2012 Olympic Games, 37 members of Team USA finished in what’s often referred to as the worst place — fourth. It’s a finish often referred to as “the wooden medal” — still an amazing finish on one of the world’s biggest sports stages, but not quite close enough.

Some of these fourth-place finishers have retired and moved on to the next phase of life. Others are hoping to compete again at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games — and earn redemption. Here’s a look at a few athletes who will be likely medal contenders at the Rio Games.

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After finishing fourth — twice — in the men’s road cycling races at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Taylor Phinney knew he wanted redemption in Rio. But after a horrific crash in the U.S. Pro Championships in May 2014, he simply hoped that he would one day be able to race again.

Earlier this month, the 25-year-old cyclist returned in his first races since suffering a compound fracture of his left tibia and a knee injury in the crash. Competing with his BMC Racing Team at the Tour of Utah, he finished third in the first stage of the seven-day tour.

“I've just seen that ‪@taylorphinney finished 3rd in his first race after 62 weeks injury!” tweeted BMC teammate Manuel Quinziato. “I'm almost moved to tears! Welcome back!”

Phinney had originally hoped to return for this summer’s Tour de France but wasn’t ready. Although the Tour is considered cycling’s grandest race, Phinney still yearns for an Olympic medal. After all, he knows what Olympic medals mean. His dad, Davis Phinney, won a bronze in cycling’s team time trial and his mom, Connie Carpenter Phinney, took the gold medal in the women’s road race, both at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games.

“It almost doesn’t matter what it is, the sport could be field hockey or something,” Phinney said in an interview last year. “There’s so much power attached to those words, to be an Olympic medalist.”

In London, he came oh-so-close. In the men’s road race, he sprinted for a bronze medal and was nipped at the finish line. Then four days later in the time trial, he placed fourth again.

Now he’s finally back on the road, hoping to qualify next year qualify for the Rio Games.

“To be able to represent the USA and go out and potentially win an Olympic medal has always been something that has really driven me,” he added. “The biggest goal in my career is to get at least one medal. A gold medal would be lovely.”

Sarah True competes at the 2015 Rio de Janeiro ITU World Olympic
Qualification Event on Aug. 2, 2015 in Rio de Janeiro.

Sarah True knows what Phinney feels like. In the 2012 Olympic women’s triathlon, she crossed the finish line 10 seconds behind the three women with whom she had run the final lap of the race.

It was a dramatic and frustrating end to a gutsy race for True (née Groff). She chased back on to the lead group of three runners with one 2.5-kilometer lap to go, just to be dropped again as the other three sprinted for the finish line.

“Only three people get a medal,” she said at the time. “I’m going to have to wait another four years.”

The race and Olympic experience flattened her, and she struggled for months. But she regained momentum and landed on the ITU World Triathlon Series podium several times both this season and last.

Now True, 33, will have another chance. At the ITU Rio World Olympic Qualification Event on Aug. 2, she finished fourth, earning a nomination to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team.

“See you next year, Rio!” she tweeted.

Three weeks later, True won the World Triathlon Stockholm race for her second career WTS win.

Tianna Bartoletta (née Madison) is a strong favorite to win gold in women’s long jump. She finished fourth in the 100-meter race at the London Games. The 29-year-old sprinter and long jumper is currently ranked first in the world in long jump, having won three of six Diamond League meets this season and finished second in two others. She also just won gold at world championships, 10 years after first winning the outdoor long jump world title.

Modern pentathlete Margaux Isaksen, 23, will also be vying for a medal in Rio after finishing fourth in London. She finished on the podium in three individual world cups this season and is ranked ninth in the world.

Mariel Zagunis already knows what it feels like to earn an Olympic medal. She has three — two golds in individual saber from the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, and a bronze from team saber in 2008. So finishing fourth at the 2012 Olympic Games was a completely foreign experience for the fencer. She would like to erase that memory with another gold in Rio.

But her results have been up-and-down this season. Now 30, Zagunis struggled at 2015 world championships. She was upset in the round of 16 in individual saber, then helped the U.S. women win bronze in the team event. At the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, she finally earned gold in the team event.

Khatuna Lorig competes in women's individual archery at the
London 2012 Olympic Games at Lord's Cricket Ground on Aug. 1,
2012 in London.

Archer Khatuna Lorig, 41, also scored a gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games. And next year in Rio she hopes to add to her Olympic bronze medal from the 1992 Games, where she competed for the Unified Team of the Soviet Union. The five-time Olympian, who has competed for three nations, finished just off the podium in 2012. With strong finishes this season in both the individual and team events – including two team world cup medals – Lorig is on the road to redemption.

Boston marathon winner Meb Keflezighi is another Olympian who knows what it’s like to stand on the podium, then fall just short. The marathoner earned a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Games, then finished fourth at the London Games.

Now 40, Keflezighi recently said that he will compete in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for marathon, scheduled for Feb. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles.  

Although swimmers Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps all won multiple Olympic medals in London, each also tasted the bitterness of finishing fourth. Lochte and Franklin both took fourth in the 200-meter freestyle. And Phelps finished fourth in the 400 individual medley. Although he is aiming to swim again in Rio, don’t look for Phelps in the 400 IM. The 30-year-old swimmer swore that he would never compete in the grueling event again.

Since London, Lochte, now 31, has finished fourth in the 200 free twice again on the world stage — at both the 2013 and 2015 FINA World Championships, even after qualifying with the top time in the semis in the latter meet.

Franklin has had some redemption in the women’s 200 freestyle. She won the event at 2013 worlds — one of six gold medals that she earned at that event. But earlier this month, she finished third in the event at the 2015 world championships.

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.