So your favored athlete just finished in fourth place. No medal. The worst place to be.
Don't worry, he won't go home empty-handed. He'll get a diploma.
The world honors the top three, but the IOC more discreetly honors the top eight. They like to rank athletes at least as far down as eighth place, and will host B-finals and other consolation rounds in order to do so. In addition, the top eight athletes are awarded personalized Olympic diplomas. It's eight now; the threshold has gradually risen through the history of the Olympics; eight were given out starting in Los Angeles 1984. Athens 1896 only awarded two (and no medals); at London 1908 there were three; by Helsinki 1952 it had risen to six.
The exact design differs for each Games; here is what gymnast Vitaly Scherbo's looked like when he won bronze in the men's individual all-around in Atlanta 1996. Other designs are lnked to from there.
It doesn't even necessarily have to be an athlete that gets a diploma; in 1905 Olympic diplomas were handed out to Brazilian aviator Albert Santos-Dumont, Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, and Theodore Roosevelt. Yes. That Theodore Roosevelt. Charles Lindbergh got one in 1928 for doing exactly what you think he got one for doing, along with a guy who went around the world in a canoe.
And that's not all. The Olympics is really truly an 'everyone's a winner' competition. There are 'participant' medals and diplomas handed out to all the athletes, staff and volunteers. Here's what they looked like in Seoul and Barcelona. So, yes, Canada. You'll get your medals. Tons of medals.
There are also three special prizes given out at IOC discretion.
First, there's the Olympic Cup, instituted by Baron de Coubertin to award any organization or group of people that have helped further develop the Olympic movement in some way. In recent years it tends to go to the people of any city that puts on a reasonably good Games (the cities of Oslo, Helsinki, Tokyo, Mexico City, Sapporo, Munich, Innsbruck, Seoul, Barcelona, Norway on behalf of Lillehammer, Nagano, Sydney, Salt Lake City, Athens, Torino and Beijing have won Cups this way; though 1997, the year after Atlanta, saw no award given. Hmmmmm), but other winners include:
*Various national Olympic committees
*The YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, now Springfield College (the birthplace of basketball)
*Fluminense, a Brazilian soccer club
*L'Equipe, a French sports newspaper whose ancestor, L'Auto, put together the first Tour de France
*La Gazzetta dello Sport, an Italian sports newspaper that did the same with the Giro d'Italia
Second, there's the Olympic Order, given to individuals for generally the same purpose. It's handed out in three levels: gold, silver and bronze. Naturally. Generally the chief organizer will get the Olympic Order at the Closing Ceremony, which is how Mitt Romney walked away with one in 2002, but some other recipients include Nadia Comenici, Katarina Witt, Steffi Graf, John Williams (the guy who composed the Olympic music you hear on NBC; orginally heard at the Opening Ceremony for Los Angeles 1984), and some don't-ask-me-what-they-have-to-do-with-sports selections such as Boris Yeltsin, Indira Gandhi and Pope John Paul II.
Finally, there's the Pierre de Coubertin Medal. Funny how he keeps showing up. This is awarded irregularly, unlike the other two, and only makes an appearance when someone shows sportsmanship above and beyond the call of duty. Some consider this an even higher honor than a gold medal. As of this time, there are only 11 Pierre de Coubertin Medals. The list:
*Lutz Long, Germany (who advised Jesse Owens at Berlin 1936, awarded posthumously)
*Emil Zatopek, Czechoslovakia (awarded posthumously for reasons not clear)
*Eugenio Monti, Italy (donated a bolt from his bobsled to Great Britain at Innsbruck 1964)
*Karl Heinz Klee, Austria (for his role in organizing Innsbruck 1976)
*Franz Jonas, Austria (reasons not clear)
*Lawrence Lemieux, Canada (deliberately went off-course in a sailing race at Seoul 1988 to assist capsized Singapore team Joseph Chan and Shaw Her Siew; he finished 22nd but was awarded 2nd, the position he was in at the time he pulled up)
*Raymond Gafner, Switzerland (reasons not clear)
*Tana Umaga, New Zealand (halted an attack during a rugby game to tend to an injured opponent, Jerry Collins of Wales)
*Spencer Eccles, United States (in recognition of his role in organizing Salt Lake City 2002)
*Vanderlei de Lima, Brazil (the guy who was ambushed by a spectator at Athens 2004 during the men's marathon, ultimately relegating him to bronze; fellow Brazilian Emanuel Rego offered his beach volleyball gold in 2005, but de Lima handed it back)
*Elena Novikova-Belova, Belarus ('outstanding service to the Olympic movement', exact reasons not clear)
And don't forget about the Terry Fox Award to be handed out on Saturday, which we already covered. So hey, Canada, there's still plenty of Olympic swag out there yet. There's even a podium. Weren't you looking to own that thing at some point?