As the Olympics wind down (or wind up to a series of great gold medal finals), it seems fitting to recall how much disappointment is a part of the Olympics. In several important and productive ways, the Olympics are haunted by the specter of defeat, disappointment, and anguish. In fact, if the awarding of gold medals were not made so prominent, the whole thing would be too damn depressing. You wait for four years (and prepare for even longer), and then you stumble out of the starting block, slip on the ice, or crash your bobsled. The the small sliver of success that motivates an enterprise that will more often than not break your heart.
Which is probably why most of us don't even bother. To devote yourself utterly to something that will more likely result only in a certificate of participation does not seem worth it to people who would rather lead lives of quite desperation. I do not mean to downplay simply having competed in the games. Having participated in the Olympics is nowhere near analogous to the certificates of participation that litter my own sad scrapbooks (or what I assume would litter a scrapbook if, in fact, I had one). Having participated is itself reward for many athletes. However, earning their way to the Olympics most likely required a desire beyond simply wanting to be there. The risks are too many and the rewards too few to simply want to be there.
The risks, however, are what give the Olympics meaning and value. If they are haunted by defeat, disappointment, and anguish, then, the ghost we might imagine is Slimer from "The Ghostbusters." While disgusting, disruptive, and painful to look at, Slimer is ultimately a benevolent force in the universe of the Ghostbusters. He provides value for the order that the Ghostbusters create from spectral chaos by forever sliming those efforts. Slimer reminds us that not all demons can or should be exercised.
This is not to imagine Olympic "losers" covered in slim, but they are the ghosts that give meaning to the gold. And they should not be forgotten.