There is something wrong too me with this concept/principle. Fundamentally I believe it sets about the wrong mental approach where anything but first, anything but a gold medal, anything but being the best is no good, worth-less not worthless.
The Olympics is a perfect time to take a moment and look more deeply at this concept. Keep in mind that in each event there is only one 'winner', one gold medal and there is only 3 people who will actually even take a place on the stands. In many cases there is 50 or more competitors in a particular field, which means that 49 would be considered less than a winner. What does this mean to the value of their experience on the whole? Is a Silver that much worse than a Gold? Is just being a competitor not enough?
Katie Hoff of the U.S. Swim Team is a great example. Coming into the games she cleaned up at the Olympic Trials winning 5 events and putting her in contention to win at least 5 Gold Medals. Her performances were excellent and put her in the medal talk leading up to the games. However, she failed to win a single Gold Medal, instead capturing a Silver and 2 Bronze as well as setting many personal bests in the meet (Olympics).
After the completion of all her events she said "I think Michael is doing what he's doing and it's incredible, but it kind of makes the rest of us look like, if you don't win a gold medal, it's not. You know? I even got a best time in the 200 free, and I didn't medal. It's tough, but obviously Michael gets our sport out there, and that's great."
Is there something flawed with this? Here is a person, an athlete who went all out for the past 4 years and the previous 4 as this is her second Olympics, training her arse off and she only managed 3 medals, none of which were Gold. She challenged herself by competing in 5 events which is no easy feat, which she and her coach both eluded to, as well did Michael Phelps a training mate and good friend of Hoff. Yes, the same man who competed in 8 events for the second straight Olympics, winning 8 golds, setting 7 world records and 1 Olympic Record.
The answer to this question is in the hands and eyes of the beholder. However, I will say looking back on last year at this time as I was prepping for the Tactical Strength Challenge, in the Elite Category having to compete in 3 events all on the same day with only 30 minutes between and no crowds cheering me on I only view my competition day as a success. Why, because I made a goal, trained and prepared for it and went out on the day giving it my best, in fact accomplishing 2 personal bests which was not enough to garner a first place finish. But, I am proud of myself and truly feel like I accomplished something wonderful.
Now, I am no Olympian and nor can I compare myself to Katie Hoff but we did have things in common and in my eyes we are both 'winners' even though we 'failed' to get first place.
My concern is that training and preparing to win at all cost versus performing your best on that given day, during that given moment and all those preceding days & moments is sending the wrong message. We should look upon all the Olympians and all those who are representing our country and so on and so forth in life as 'winners' because it is far more than about first place.