Here is the understatement of the year: Americans don’t like to lose. And when they do, they get squirrely and resentful, like a God-given right has been snatched from their fat little fingers and they don’t understand why.

How else to explain this national nervous breakdown we’re experiencing in the wake of a few disappointing performances by U.S. athletes at the start of the London Olympics.

The great Michael Phelps fails to medal in the 400 individual medley and the backlash back home is swift and unforgiving.

“What’s the matter with that guy?” went the wailing. “Did he just, like, not train at all for these Games? Did he sit on the couch all day slamming Doritos and Mountain Dew ever since he came back from Beijing in 2008 with all that gold medal bling?”

“Doesn’t he care anymore?”

And from there the whining got worse when the U.S. men managed “only” a silver medal in the 4x100 freestyle relay after Ryan Lochte was chased down on the final leg by France’s Yannick Agnel. And when  Lochte – already with a dominant win in the 400 individual medley! -- finished fourth in the 200 free after Agnel again torched the field for the gold medal.

“I did my best,” Lochte said after that race. “I guess sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I gave it 110 per cent.”

Sorry, kid, that won’t cut it – that’s basically been the reaction from many here in the good ol’ U-S-A. You didn’t win.

Neither did U.S. women’s gymnast Jordyn Wieber, who had herself a little cry-fest on camera after failing to qualify for Thursday’s all-around final. And neither did the men’s gymnastic team, which finished fifth in team finals Monday, two days after finishing first in the qualifying competition.

The notion that only winners matter -- that only winning is acceptable -- is nothing new. Witness the righteous outpouring of indignation and talk-show whining that occurs in this town whenever the Ravens lose.

But it’s sad to see it directed at young athletes – mostly amateurs, some still in their teens -- who have trained most of their lives for a shot at Olympic glory and are competing in the most pressurized setting imaginable, with the entire world watching.

You’d think we’d give them a break when their dreams shatter and they fall short of their goals.

But most of the time we don’t.