The Olympic gold medal is a fulfillment. The bronze at least secures your place among the medallists and all-time greats of your country. Heartbreaking fourth-place finishes can act as moral wins for medal-starved countries.
Even participating for its own sake gives pure joy to someone from a disadvantaged land. But the silver medal is a curse. It comes after a dreaded defeat, reminds that you are not up there. It's the most pure medal to be won in terms of metal at the Games.
But it's impure for the athlete's soul. It leaves a crazy taste in his or her mouth. So close yet so far, a potential kiss turned into a slap. A middle-class person about to move up the socio-economic ladder but shaken up by the power of the mightier.
Silver medallists trudge to the podium with heavy hearts. They are neither consoled like the bronze medallists nor elevated like the gold medallists by the national anthem at the medal ceremony.
And, if you are an athlete, swimmer, wrestler, boxer or a racquet sports player, you know that you are either out-classed by your rival or edged out by a close margin. The feeling is a sinking one.
In athletics and swimming, the slipping of gold unravels in front of you when you are beaten off the blocks or overtaken by the rival with more oxygen in the lungs and thicker layer of will power in the heart.
In tennis, your opponent may have played a crucial point with more velocity behind his shots. In boxing and wrestling, you could have been humiliated with a knockout. Some sportsmen are lucky to be a part of those sports where the second-best finish doesn't unravel in front of you.
Like shooting (Rajyavardhan Singh's silver in Athens is just an example) where you have an option not to look at the scores or in some sports, you are not aware about the leader playing elsewhere. In team sports where you can always say the team was not good enough, hence just the silver.
But the silver sucks. It is disheartening. It dampens spirit. Very few can wipe out the silver with a gold in the next Olympics. If you are really ambitious, you just weep with the silver. Take an opinion poll among athletes.
'Would you settle for the silver?' There will be silence, some reluctance to open up. It's clearly the 'most unwanted' medal. After losing in the semifinals, players settle for the bronze. But to settle for the silver after losing the final is much harder. It's a break-up after the engagement.
Silver medallists don't edge out the fourth-placed finisher in playoffs (like Leander Paes did to Fernando Meligeni in 1996). They don't win a consolation medal (the bronze), thereby ending on a winning note.
Instead, they suffer the defeat of gold: In front of cameras, under the spotlight, hurting their own and country's aspirations. And watching their conqueror break into intense celebration. Over the next 15-20 days, as you applaud the Olympic champions and other fighters, please spare a thought for the silver medal and the silver medallists.
Your purest form of sympathy may not heal their wounds, it won't turn that silver into gold. But impure persons - a gold medallists caught in the dope tests - can do that for them. That's like a heart patient waiting for the bypass route, waiting for the science ( World Anti-Doping Agency) and some divine intervention.
Like Carl Lewis winning the 100m gold at Seoul 1988 after Ben Johnson tested positive. But even such gold medal comes with a footnote. If the IOC wants to hand a fitting redemption for the silver-turned-gold winners like Lewis, they have to award them in the next possible Olympic Games.
On the podium, with the national anthem, stadium roar et al. But is there a silver lining to the silver medal and silver medallists? For the ambitious, it's a ghastly feeling. But winning the silver offers new hope to his/her compatriots: if the silver is possible, gold can't be so out of reach.
Abhinav Bindra winning the gold in Beijing 2008 was, in some way, culmination of Rathore's silver. Australia, initially proud of an Olympic hockey silver after defeat to Pakistan at Mexico 1968 were benumbed by New Zealand at Montreal 1976, then devasted by Germany at Barcelona 1992.
The Kangaroos worked tirelessly to win the holy grail, finally doing so at Athens 2004 to end one of sport's biggest travails. Silver burns the medallists from inside but it relays the flame of optimism to their successors. New heart, new soul, new brain and a new body then attempt to take the competitor to nirvana: Citius, altius, fortius!