It is widely dubbed the most agonising position to finish at an Olympic Games. A fourth place on the global stage is admirable from one perspective, but when it comes to the world's glamour multi-sport event, such a finish stirs a unique combination of pleasure and dissatisfaction.
A study conducted after the 1992 Games suggested bronze medallists at an Olympics are in fact happier than silver medallists, by managing to snatch the last medal on offer while those finishing second rue the missed opportunity of a gold medal.
Applying the same premise to a fourth-place finisher, it is easy to calculate the amplified anguish they would feel. New Zealand's own Emma Twigg and American Sarah Zelenka, to name a couple, have used the term "worst nightmare" to describe a fourth.
In New Zealand's 113-year Olympic history, they have had 1238 athletes sent to the Summer Games. 1068 have returned with nothing, creating a "miss record" of 86 per cent. 49 have finished fourth, with nine of those coming in Rio.
Six groupings of those nine in total are returning in 2021, and a handful of those athletes meet a unique set of prerequisites – a gruelling fourth placing last time along with no Olympic medals, but the calibre to set afoot the podium this time around.
While they get the chance to right some wrongs, their compatriots that ran, threw, rowed and swam before them have had to live with the taxing question of "what if?"
Bill Savidan, 5000m and 10,000m, 1932
One fourth spread across successive Olympic Games is tough, but how about two fourths at one event?
That was the reality for long-distance runner Bill Savidan who endured two near misses at the 1932 Los Angeles Games in the 5000m and 10,000m running events.
By the early 1930s, Savidan had solidified his status as one of the best on the globe, immortalising himself – somewhat – by winning the six-mile run at the 1930 Empire Games – now known as the Commonwealth Games – in Hamilton, Ontario which was his greatest achievement on the track.
He went on to win a 12-mile run in Toronto the same year, outclassing a host of the world's best runners.
By this stage, Savidan was viewed as a legitimate medal chance when he secured his spot in Los Angeles, but his hopes fell just short when he crossed the finish line 5.6 seconds and 34 seconds off bronze in the 5000 and 10,000 runs respectively.
Ironically, Savidan's efforts are looked back on fondly as some of the greatest from a New Zealand runner at the Olympics. He was one of the early trailblazers in the sport alongside the likes of Randolph Rose and Cecil Matthews, preceding the great Jack Lovelock.
Val Young, shot put, 1960 and 1964
Pride for Savidan turns into agony for Young, who finished fourth at back-to-back Olympic Games. The shot put and discus specialist may well have a case she should have at least two Olympic medals had she faced fair competition.
Young staked her claim as the best thrower in both disciplines in the Commonwealth with a slew of medals in the late 1950s and 1960s, including gold in both events at Perth 1962.
But at the Olympics, it was a different story, with different competitors from different countries challenging her. Young followed up an impressive fifth at Melbourne 1956 with what looked like a bronze medal-worthy throw of 16.39m in Rome in 1960, only to be edged by American Earlene Brown, while Tamara Press of the Soviet Union took gold.
In 1964 the script remained the same as Young – throwing a then New Zealand women's shot put record of 17.26m – again had to settle for fourth in Tokyo, while Press finished top with her compatriot Galina Zybina claiming the final podium step.
What makes for tortuous recollection is the widespread belief that many Eastern European athletes were doping at the time, before there was advanced drug testing and rules in place.
On top of that, the careers of Press – who finished with three golds and a silver in her Olympic career – and her sister Irina, a multi-talented athlete, came to an abrupt end just before sex testing was brought into play in international competitions in 1966.
Bruce Biddle, cycle road race, 1972
If you want to find a New Zealand athlete whose Olympic past embodies the words crushing, chagrin and even travesty, Bruce Biddle is the one. The cyclist hailing from Warkworth is one of a few athletes in the Games' history to cross the line third – according to the record books – yet not have a bronze medal to show for it.
The Kiwi had a taste of gold on the tip of his tongue after winning the road race at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.
In Munich two years later, it was Holland's Hennie Kuiper who took victory in relatively comfortable fashion, 27 seconds ahead of a group of three riders – one of which was Biddle – who crossed the line in a photo finish.
Australian Clyde Sefton (second), Spaniard Jaime Huélamo (third) and Biddle all finished with the exact race time of 4:15:04, with a matter of centre metres pushing the Kiwi down to fourth. Days later, it was revealed Huélamo tested positive for Nikethamide, more commonly known as Coramine, after a routine drugs test, thus promoting Biddle to third.
However, since he was never tested post-race – something he offered to take part in but was turned away – the International Olympic Committee and cycling lawmakers elected not to award Biddle a medal, conceiving a uniquely bitter pill for the now 71-year-old to swallow.
Next to Biddle's name on the Olympics website's race result remains the number four, without a chestnut-coloured three above him.
Men's rowing eight, 1984
This one can go down as the upset of upsets. The men's rowing eight arrived in Los Angeles in 1984 with two World Championship titles buoying their medal hopes, and with their closest rival in East Germany absent from the Games due to the Eastern Bloc boycott, little appeared in the way of the Kiwis taking top honours.
After victory in their semifinal, New Zealand got off to a slow start in the deciding row with the Canadian crew two lanes over blazing ahead. Once New Zealand hit the 1000m mark they began a spirited chase, but it amounted to nothing. Canada took home gold with the USA in second, and Australia only just edging their transtasman foes by 0.34 seconds for third.
Mike Stanley was stroke of the New Zealand crew, and said in 2016 ahead of the Rio Olympics that the occasion was "devastating", and he still cannot pin down what went wrong for the crew.
"Surreal and numbing," Stanley said. "We haven't spoken about it in any great depth since. We all probably have theories but none can be used as an excuse."
With it feeling like New Zealand squandered a golden opportunity, you could argue just desserts was served afterwards, as the country's fortunes in the eight have been gloomy since. A Kiwi men's octad has qualified at the Olympics just twice over the last 37 years – Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.
Women's Black Sticks, 2012 and 2016
The Women's Black Sticks were no doubt devastated by their fourth at London 2012 after coming so close to making the final. But those stitches used to sew up wounds broke open in Rio four years later, for an even more gutting result.
Under the stewardship of hard-hitting former coach Mark Hager, the women's side headed to London largely inexperienced, with 12 of the 16 players yet to be blooded in the Olympics.
Therefore losing on penalties to the widely regarded Queens of Turf in the Netherlands in the semis was doubly impressive. It set them up for a playoff date with hosts Great Britain, who prevailed 3-1, with three quick goals in the space of 18 minutes to end New Zealand's medal hopes.
Four years down the line in Rio, a polished Black Sticks side returned, elevated by experience, but the final destination in their Olympic journey was again the bronze medal match, this time against Germany. Despite a mountain of attacking opportunities, they could only find the back of the net once, losing 2-1 to seal a shattering fourth place.
Five of the 2016 squad in Stacey Michelsen (captain), Sam Charlton (vice captain), Olivia Merry, Rose Keddell and Kelsey Smith will be taking the turf in Tokyo under coach Graham Shaw, who knows how to mount a fairy-tale tournament run, as he did at the helm of Ireland at the 2018 World Cup.
Competition has been bare amid the pandemic, but New Zealand won one and drew three of their six warm-up matches against Australia in 2021.
Emma Twigg, rowing single sculls, 2012 and 2016
Like her female counterparts on the hockey turf, Emma Twigg's last two Olympic campaigns delivered fourths at London and Rio.
Her placing in London felt far from an underachievement as Twigg was in the early stages of her prime. The lineage of her career post-2012 however meant that when 2016 rolled around, the prospect of the top Olympic prize looked more than just a possibility.
Twigg took home silver and gold in the 2013 and 2014 World Championships. She had also built up a fierce rivalry with Australian Kim Brennan, and in a three-year period where the two traded blows with oars, Twigg was the only one to dispatch Brennan on competitive waters.
It was a different story come the A final in Rio, as Twigg – who isn't shy of a slow start for a thunderous finish – had a little too much work to do in the final strides to the finish line, missing the dais by 0.35 seconds, while Brennan won gold.
The Napier native herself described the result as "almost her worst nightmare", and the hurt was such that Twigg hung up the oars to pursue other career interests, before rediscovering that spark and coming out of retirement in early 2019 for one last go.
Her Olympic preparation so far has been highlighted by a second placing at the 2019 World Championships, and Twigg herself has continually stated how good she feels physically ahead of Tokyo.
Men's cycling team pursuit, 2016
The New Zealand cycle team that attended Rio came back with an underwhelming medal haul of just one – a silver to the men's sprint team. One to return empty-handed, with the expectation of a medal, was the men's pursuit team.
Ahead of Rio the group were world champions in 2015 and secured bronze medal finishes in the 2013 and 2014 World Champs to bolster their medal hopes, and possibly snag a maiden gold for New Zealand in the category.
Those gongs coupled with a strong qualification did little to help the Kiwis in their semifinal against Great Britain and an underwhelming bronze medal race against Denmark, where they were a shave under three seconds off the pace.
Regan Gough – part of the 2015 World Championship team as an 18-year-old – is the only member of that squad and the Rio one to return for Tokyo, and yet to secure an Olympic medal in his career. Likely salivating, he heads north along with his teammates with silver medals at the 2017 and 2020 World Championships under their belts.
What's more important is Gough along with Aaron Gate, Campbell Stewart, Jordan Kerby and Corbin Strong have bettered their 2016 Olympic time by eight seconds in their preparations for Tokyo.
Tim Price, equestrian, 2016
Like Regan Gough, Tim Price heads to Tokyo seeking his first piece of Olympic silverware while his competitive partner already has one to boast. Price will make the trip alongside his wife Jonelle – a bronze medallist at London 2012 – with Jesse Campbell completing the eventing trio.
Price's form was tracking nicely in the lead-up to his Rio campaign, with second placings at the Kentucky Three-Day Event and the Burghley Horse Trials, as well as a third at Étoiles de Pau. He was initially named as a reserve with his horse Ringwood Sky Boy but was thrust into the fire the day the Games began on August 5 when Jock Paget riding Clifton Lush withdrew.
Instead of failing to meet expectations, Price's despair at Rio centres more on unfortunate circumstances, as he was eliminated early from both individual and team competition when Ringwood Sky Boy fell.
He watched on as Jonelle, Mark Todd and Clarke Johnstone brought home fourth.
Since however, Price has strung together a promising run of form that's included a third at Kentucky and a first at Luhmühlen horse trials, as well as victory at the World Young Horse Championships, all coming in 2019.
Price recently finished second at the Kentucky Three-Day Event and currently ranks second in the eventing world rankings.