Going for Olympic gold: Does the winner take it all?
"It's not the winning, but the taking part that counts".
A phrase often used in sport but athletes' reactions have shown that there's a big difference between gold and silver or a silver and a bronze.
"We gave everything, we tried everything, we wanted to win so badly," Hunter told the BBC.
"We are sorry to everybody we have let down," he added.
Fighting tears, Purchase added: "We have really enjoyed being part of this amazing team. We just wish we could have been quicker for everybody else."
The pair won gold in Beijing - Britain's first-ever lightweight sculls Olympic medal and then they successfully defended their world title in 2011.
So in London 2012, they were in it to win it.
"It's as simple as that. Everybody will say 'it is great you won a silver', but we came for gold and that is it," Hunter said.
"You're silver medallists", the BBC's John Inverdale said.
"Sorry once again," replied Hunter.
Winning a medal is a matter of perception, said Ben Oakley, head of sport at the Open University.
Olympics coverage online
"Zac and Mark performed pretty well during the week so that shapes their perception and hypes it up," Mr Oakley added.
"Then the public's perception hypes up is and one feeds off the other."
Mr Oakley said that public apologies were down to who the athletes thought they were competing for.
"They want to do justice to the sacrifice and support of everyone around them," he said.
"They feel they have let their closest and dearest support team down and to a certain extent the wider public. It is a complex interaction."
Mr Oakley said that while time could give an athlete a better perception, the moments after a race were difficult.
"Right now it really hurts," he said.
"They were distraught. Exhausted. Every sportsman is competitive - if you've tasted gold before, it's pretty tough."
It was a race which saw Ohuruogu try to defend her 400m title after winning gold in Beijing four years ago.
But it was not to be. The 28-year-old Londoner lost out to American Sanya Richards-Ross at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday.
She was clearly disappointed. Yet she still won a silver.
"I was stunned. I was heartbroken actually, I really was," she told the BBC.
"To lose your title like that, it was tough. But Sanya's a worthy competitor and she ran a good race so I have to be happy with what I got. It could have been worse," she added.
Mr Oakley's analysis is that the defence of a title is the difference between chasing a dream and being chased.
"There is something about the psychology of chasing," he said. "An up-and-coming athlete chasing down the Olympic title, compared to being chased, is a different mindset.
"There is so much hype of expectation. In fact, the champions that go down in history are those who keep defending."
Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson
According to Mr Oakley there is a different psychology attached to different sports.
"With many sports, rowing and sailing especially, you've got the variables of environmental conditions and elements you cannot control," he said.
"You try to tell yourself what you can and can't control but expectation builds up and for some reason it doesn't click on the day."
After the race, Percy told the BBC it was "gutting" to miss out on gold in such fashion.
"It feels cruel sometimes. It was ridiculous conditions at the end. We feel a little robbed, but that's the way it goes," Percy said.
"We're hurting so much inside but it makes it so much easier to know [the supporters] are so happy for us."
Mr Oakley said the Olympic Games exacerbated the disappointment.
"For four years of effort to be decided by a random act of what the wind does, that is pretty bitter-sweet, especially when those crews were looking pretty strong and odds-on favourites.
"In their minds they are fixated on gold. They knew it was easily within their grasp, they could see it and to have it snatched away at the last minute is so tough."
For the families of the athletes, winning a silver or losing a gold - whichever way you look at it - does not make much of a difference.
"When they reflect on it and realise they've won silver to go alongside gold, they're going to be pretty proud," said Percy's sister Katrina, who also sails.
Britain's best swimmer Rebecca Adlington went to London 2012 with two Olympic gold medals under her belt.
In the 400m freestyle she won a bronze, where Camille Muffat of France took the gold and in the 800m freestyle she saw her title go to 15-year-old American Katie Ledecky.
There were tears, but as she got out of the pool she defended the bronze and pleaded with the UK to be proud of the medal.
"I'm sorry that I didn't get a gold for everyone who was expecting me to," she told the BBC.
"But I'm so proud and pleased to get a bronze medal. It's nothing ever to be embarrassed about. I hate it when people say silver or a bronze is losing, because you've not done my sport.
"Swimming is one of the hardest to medal at. It's so difficult and I hope the public realise that this week and hopefully will be proud of me for getting this bronze."
Mr Oakley explained that the expectation in these circumstance was great and made harder when fellow team-mates were not doing that well.
"If we'd got a few golds before that, who knows. It's about what your peers are doing. But looking at swimming the margins are so small. Defending titles is hard."
Adlington is happy with her medal tally.
"I've been in four Olympic Games finals and got four medals - that's nothing to be ashamed of."
Another Olympian, rowing's Alan Campbell, wept with joy on the podium when he won bronze in the men's single sculls.
"I'm very proud," he told the BBC.
"I trained for 10 years. It was disappointing last time [Beijing]. It was hard coming away with nothing - well no medals. Two guys were quicker than me today, I did everything I could.
"Ultimately I wasn't able to match them today. I'm just so sore and tired. I'm really pleased, it's another medal for our part of the country [Coleraine]."
So what does the future hold for Olympic athletes and can they recover from winning "just" a silver or bronze?
"Just look at Katherine Grainger," Mr Oakley said. "She had three silvers, but it didn't quench her hunger for reaching the ultimate prize."
Grainger competed with Anna Watkins in London 2012's women's double sculls and together they won the gold.
In 2008 Jessica Ennis was injured in Beijing and had to withdraw from Games.
In 2012 the heptathlete hit back and is now the Olympic champion.
There is hope for London 2012 athletes still chasing that gold.