However cruel it may seem, an Olympic gold medal is viewed as final confirmation that an athlete is truly the best of his or her time.
Before the Athens Games, Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj had done just about everything possible in the 1,500 metres, the classic race of the track programme.
He had won four world titles in a row and held the world record for the 1,500 and its imperial equivalent, the mile.
Yet Olympic gold had eluded him, first at the 1996 Atlanta Games when he fell at the bell and again four years later in Sydney when he was outsprinted by Kenyan Noah Ngeny.
Two defeats on the European circuit this year gave further ammunition to the sceptics who thought he might be slipping from the pedestal.
In Athens, El Guerrouj silenced the doubters in the most emphatic fashion.
First he won the 1,500 metres final in style, pouncing at 800 and holding on to win from his Kenyan rival Bernard Lagat.
Four days later he did it again, winning the most eagerly awaited track clash of the Games against Ethiopia's 10,000 metres champion Kenenisa Bekele.