The 36-year-old protested in vain against the decision to award the 100 metres gold to her US rival Gail Devers after both recorded the same time of 10.94sec.
But officials were in no doubt about giving the decision to Devers, who thus became the first woman to retain the Olympic 100m title since her fellow American Wyomia Tyus, who won in 1964 and 1968.
Ottey had said afterwards that the decision rested on the judging criterion - "If it's the head, Gail won. If it's the torso, I won." But in the end, it came down to the shoulder as Devers finished with her habitual dip and twist.
Daniel Lamare, the International Amateur Athletic Federation judge who referred the case to the jury of appeal, said: "It was an easy decision to make, it wasn't difficult. Once the picture was enhanced it clearly shows Devers was five centimetres ahead."
He displayed a computer-generated image of the two straining bodies on which a vertical red line indicated the finish. The top of Devers's shoulder, which constitutes part of her torso, impinged upon it; Ottey was five- thousandths of a second behind.
The long wait for the initial official announcement in the stadium brought back memories of the 1993 World Championship final in Stuttgart which also involved Devers and Ottey and a disputed finish.
Devers got the decision on that occasion also after both women had recorded 10.82. Bobby Kersee, Devers's coach, commented: "Gail gets her head and her torso in better than anybody."
Thus Ottey, who has been training this year with Linford Christie, added a silver rather than a gold to the four Olympic bronzes she has won since taking part in her first Games in Moscow 16 years ago.
If there was bitter frustration for the Jamaican, there was wild joy for Heli Rantanen, who brought back another javelin title to the country which loves the event more than any other, Finland. Rantanan, who just missed out on a medal at last year's World Championships, produced an opening throw of 67.94 metres to become the first Finnish woman to win the Olympic title.
Finnish men have won this event at the Games seven times since 1906, but until Rantanan's effort, the best their women had managed was the world title Tiina Lillak won in 1983.