How does the athlete, driven by a ferocious competitiveness, find satisfaction in being beaten? If first is first and second is nowhere, where precisely did Eilidh Child stand on a dramatic night at Hampden Park?
The answer, of course, is that even the most dedicated performers must find a deep sense of personal achievement by simply doing the best they can, by taking the pressure and performing to their utmost under the most rigorous of scrutiny.
Child did this last night in a rain-soaked Hampden that could have proved to provide the bonfire to all her hopes cherished over seven years. On a cold, wet night Child could not record a personal best time in finishing second to Kaliese Spencer and edging out Janieve Russell in the 400m hurdles. The Jamaicans recorded 54:10 and 55.64 respectively, with the Scot coming home in 55.02 to win a silver medal.
On a night when every nerve in Child's body must have been twanging like the banjo in a bluegrass band, Child made sweet music at the national stadium.
She came to terms with the paradox of being victorious and finishing second, by daring to dream but being devoted to ensuring a silver-tinged reality was the outcome of an ambition that was sparked seven years ago when she and her mother, Jill, were in the Fruitmarket to hear that Glasgow had won the bid to host the 2014 Games.
A silver at Delhi intervened but Child had a long-term plan. It was successfully executed last night by a skip over the line and a sprint to the finish in front of a roaring home crowd. Spencer, of course, was ahead of the home hope. Child must be able to pick the Jamaican out from the back in any line-up. They have raced 10 times and Spencer has won 10 times.
"There was nothing more I could have done. I'm so happy," said Child. "I said after the Olympics that I came off feeling I could have done more but when I came off here I had nothing left. My legs were gone. The right girl won. I'm delighted to come away with a silver medal."
There was nothing forced or manufactured about this joy. The paradox of happiness rescued from defeat was accentuated by the playing of the Proclaimers' 500 Miles. The twins are Hibernian fans and Child ensured a measure of mild revenge by gesturing a 5-1 sign that referred to Hearts' victory over their city rivals in the Scottish Cup final. "I think my brother was more miffed, he was like: you need to sort that out."
This was all burbled out in good humour by an athlete who seemed to be feeling a sense of wonderful relief. Only perhaps Michael Jamieson, the poster boy to her poster girl of the 2014 Games, could have felt the same pressure as Child.
Libby Clegg in the para 100m, was expected to win and did so, embracing the pressure. But the stress as on a different level for Jamieson and Child.
The hurdler chose to meet this by locking herself away, focusing on her technique and fitness and playing down any hype about gold or world records. There are photographs all over the city of Child. She and her agent ensured that all were taken before Christmas. She shut down her Facebook and Twitter activities.
The 27-year-old then concentrated on what she could manage, what she could influence and what she could do in front of a hugely supportive crowd. If Spencer ran to form, then second was the best result.
All this may have focused Child's mind but her body betrayed the surge of adrenaline that the roar of 40,000 fans must provoke. She jiggled on the starting line, shook her legs and broke into a smile that surely disguised a substantial element of turmoil.
Her emotional stability, too, could not have been helped by a woman discus thrower launching her missile in the warm-up for that event into the net, producing a crash that caused a titter in a nervous crowd and led the starter to ask the competitors to stand up and reset.
A wait of seven years for a run for gold in Glasgow thus had to wait yet a few more seconds. Child, though, did not hesitate on hearing the starting pistol. She was fluent in the sixth lane, opening up a game on everyone save, of course, her nemesis, Spencer.
There was just a moment at the top bend when a nation dared to hope, when Scotland prayed that a finishing surge might just produce the unalloyed joy of gold. This hope was quickly doused as the field straightened and Spencer, imperious and fluent, strode over the last.
There then seemed to be a smart acceptance of what was unfolding on the part of Child. Her careful skip at the last hurdle may have been the result of a stride pattern crumbling under fatigue but it may also have been a realisation that if this barrier was leapt successfully then silver was claimed.
The deed was done. The medal was won. The hurdler from Kinross had found satisfaction in Glasgow.
So how could Child find a silver lining in second when her countryman, Jamieson, was devastated by his runner-up position in the 200m breaststroke to Ross Murdoch?
"I think I had an easier job than Michael, because I wasn't the out-and-out favourite going into that race. I was always the underdog against Kaliese, so I think I had a little bit less pressure than Michael did. I think Michael has had a bit of a rough deal, because I think he swam brilliantly."
She added: "I've always said you can't control who wins the race."
But one can control oneself. Child managed this in difficult circumstances. Yes, she was second best. Rightly, she will focus and rejoice on the word best in that sentence.