TRIALS 2012: Welcome to the sporting event where bronze really is a kick in the face
THERE are times in Olympic sport when, it seems, bronze can be worth more than a gold.
PAINFUL THIRD: Michael Jamieson, far left, won bronze in the 100m breaststroke at the Olympic trials - but only the top two were smiling after booking their London 2012 selections (SWpix)
Just over two years ago in Vancouver, Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette battled through the tears to claim the final spot on the podium just days after her mother, her inspiration for taking up the sport, had suddenly died.
But at this week's British Gas Swimming Championships, which double up as the Olympic trials, bronze isn't worth a warm bucket of spit - as a consolation prize you probably rather be slapped in the face with a flip-flop.
These are the most competitive, and therefore by far the most exciting, Team GB trials in the build-up to the Games, such is Britain's strength in depth across a number of strokes and distances.
It's amazing to think that just 12 years ago British swimmers returned from the Sydney Games with not a single medal to show for their efforts.
Back then they were derided, with triple jumper Jonathan Edwards their chief critic, as Games tourists, more obsessed with parties than podiums, whose idea of Olympic spirit was often found at the bottom of an empty bottle.
How times have changed.
If you thought getting a ticket to London 2012 was tough try being a swimmer. Only the top two at the trials in each discipline will secure qualification, provided they are also inside a time that would have ranked them in the world's top 16 in 2011.
It's a ruthless system designed to breed winners - which, when you cast your eye around the pool deck and see Rebecca Adlington, Fran Halsall, Hannah Miley, Liam Tancock and Keri-Anne Payne, it certainly is.
However, such a system does make a bit of a mockery of the podium celebrations.
The gold and silver medallists appear almost giddy with excitement but the poor soul wearing the bronze looks like they've had something hung around their neck that they wouldn't like to tread in.
And because this is an Olympic test event and even the medal ceremonies are being trialled, they then have to perform a victory lap - up, down and around the pool - while they would probably prefer to be back in their hotel room crying their eyes out or booking a two-week holiday on a remote beach somewhere - no TV, no phone reception and no wi-fi, dates July 27th to August 12th inclusive.
© Sportsbeat 2011
MORE COLUMNS BY SPORTSBEAT'S JAMES TONEY