Athletes train for years, sometimes decades, to compete among the world’s elite performers. Whether it’s the Super Bowl, Wimbledon, the Olympics, or the World Cup, the hope is always to walk away a champion. But of course, for every gold, there is a silver — there can be no first place without a second.
You don’t have to have been an Olympic contender to understand how frustrating a second-place finish can be. Anyone who has ever watched the postgame coverage of a major sporting event has seen the tears and heartbreak on display from the people who fell short. Yet finishing second provides unique opportunities; the second tier of the podium allows for perspective. In the months following a loss, persistent athletes reflect on their experiences. They will review and analyze their performance, find incremental ways to improve, and seize the opportunity to set new goals, to come back stronger.
Below are eight quotes from fierce competitors who came in second despite their best efforts. In their words you can hear disappointment, yes, but there is also determination. In sports, as in life, the only way to truly lose is to quit trying.
This is just a stepping stone for us… It hurts but it's going to stick in our minds and it's going to bring us back stronger for next year.
— Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton, after losing Super Bowl LVI to the Los Angeles Rams in a nail biter
It is a fantastic group… We will go again definitely. Tomorrow we will celebrate the season. It is good we don't have to do that immediately, but after a night's sleep and maybe another speech from me, the boys will realize how special it was what we did.
— Jürgen Klopp, coach of Liverpool FC, after losing the UEFA Champions League Final to Real Madrid 1-0 in 2022
I did everything since the beginning of the year to really focus on this tournament… But it wasn't meant to be… I know that I'm going to come back and win a Grand Slam, for sure… This is tennis, and it's part of it. I have to learn from it, definitely.
— Ons Jabeur, after losing the 2022 Wimbledon Women’s Final to Elena Rybakina. Ons would have been the first woman from Asia or Africa to win a major tennis tournament.
This year all I had on my mind was the gold. It definitely shows the expectations I’ve got for myself. I’m definitely a little bit annoyed, but being on another world podium in my second year of being in the professional world of athletics is something I should be proud of… Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough this time, but the gap’s closing and hopefully one day I’ll get there.
— Keely Hodgkinson, World Athletic Championship 800 meters silver medalist, after losing gold to her rival, Athing Mu
That’s three times we’ve been second, and that sucks. Second hurts, I’m not going to lie, especially with the car we had and the job the guys did. That’s racing, as they say, and sometimes you're just not on the right end of things.
— Martin Truex Jr., after getting second place in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race and the Championship Series overall in 2021
I thought I was going to win after that putt went in on 15… I said, if I can keep hitting good shot after good shot, which I pretty much did, I’m going to win this golf tournament… But the only thing I take from this is I gave him the best that I had and it wasn’t quite good enough… But it almost was.
— Rocco Mediate on narrowly losing the U.S. Open to Tiger Woods in a legendary sudden death playoff round, 2008
Evidently it wasn't meant to be… This is obviously going to hurt for a while. But I'm proud of our team, we never gave up.
— Abby Wambach, captain of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, on losing the 2011 World Cup final to Japan in penalty kicks
I always look at it, would I rather not make the playoffs or lose in the finals? I don’t know. I don’t know… But then I lock back in, and I’ll start thinking about how fun it is to compete in the playoffs — in the first round, in the second round and Eastern Conference finals. And then if I’m lucky enough to get here again, it’d be fun to do it.
— LeBron James, then of the Cleveland Cavaliers, after losing the NBA Finals Series to the Golden State Warriors in 2015
Photo credit: Andrew Orchard sports photography/ Alamy Stock Photo