Going for Gold—or a Certificate?

Elite athletes across the world are preparing for this summer’s Olympic Games in London. For most, their quest for Olympic gold began at a very young age.

Take Michael Phelps, the extraordinary swimmer who won eight gold medals during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. He began swimming at the age of seven and, by the time he was ten, he held a national record. Phelps’ career—his quest for gold—was launched. Phelps became the youngest world record holder in men’s swimming by 15 and, by 19, the recipient of the most gold medals ever awarded in the Games.

After each event, and with the gold medal draped around his neck, Phelps stood on the platform while the American national anthem filled the stadium with song. His countrymen stood proud, enthralled by the glory of gold.

Not all who pursue their passion are rewarded so kindly—indeed there are a great number of athletes who set out for gold and who never achieve such prowess. But not everyone can win the gold medal. And, for those who fall short of winning a medal, there’s a “diploma of merit,” like this one from the 1948 Olympic Games, the last time the Games were hosted in London.


1948 Diploma of merit. Courtesy of http://olympic-museum.de/diploma/dipl1908.htm


You say you’ve never heard of a “diploma of merit” nor seen an awards ceremony at the Games during which such diplomas are handed out? You’ve never heard of a certificate counting ceremony to see which nation conquered its neighbors? You aren’t alone.

There’s a reason that medals are awarded at the Olympic Games and not simply a certificate of achievement.

As Lewis E. Lehrman points out, precious metals—especially gold—are intrinsically valuable and their inherent worth is recognized across time and space. As the 2012 Olympic Games draw ever closer, competitors hold out hope as they go for the gold.


2012 Olympic medals. Courtesy of http://www.olympic.org/news?articleid=134845