why-do-athletes-bite-gold-medals

(GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)

Chances are you’ve seen that iconic shot of the victorious freshly minted Olympic athlete post podium, drunk with happiness, posing for photographers with their brand-new gold medal around their neck—and in their mouth.

Why do athletes bite their Olympic medals?

A bit of history. The Olympic games as we know them first debuted in 1896. However, at the first games, rather than gold, first place competitors won silver medals, second place won bronze. In the next Olympics in 1900, the winners mostly received trophies or cups. It wasn’t until the 1904 Olympics that medals made of solid gold were awarded to top athletes.

But those shiny solid gold medals didn’t last long. The last solid gold medals were awarded at the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics. When World War I began and gold became more scarce, alloys were added to reduce the amount of gold. These days medals are required to contain just 6 grams of gold, which means they mostly consist of silver and a little copper.

We investigated a little deeper into why athletes still bite Olympic medals.

Biting metal is a tradition

Many years ago, biting metal—any metal, not just medals from the Olympics—was a way to test its authenticity. During the California gold rush in the late 1800s, people would bite into gold to test if it was real. The theory was that pure gold is a soft, malleable metal. If a bite left indentation marks on the metal, it was most likely real. If it wasn’t, you could break a tooth. But since today’s medals aren’t solid gold, the bite test doesn’t help.

Athletes are following examples set by other medalists

It could also be because these champions have seen their sister and brother athletes doing the same. Michael Phelps chomped down on his medal. So did Simone Biles. So today’s Olympic athletes are following the tradition.

Photographers are telling athletes to bite their medals

It has also been said that the reason for medal biting is a simple one. In a 2012 story for NBCNews.com, David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians and author of The Complete Book of the Olympics shared that the practice comes from athletes listening to photographers who are keen for the killer shot seen all around the world.

In 2016, NBC Olympians Dawn Harper-Nelson and Natalie Coughlin both shared that the throng of photographers insisted that they each chomp onto their new medals after winning. “They wear you down and they make you bite it,” explained Coughlin. “They’re screaming, ‘Look at me!’ You just have everyone yelling demands of ‘Smile!’ and ‘Bite your medal!’,” said Harper-Nelson.

Want to know more about medals? We’ve got the low down?

What went into creating the medals for Tokyo 2020?

To create the medals for the Tokyo 2020 games, over 400 professional designers and design students entered a competition to create the winning design. The medals were created to symbolize diversity and honors hard work. The ribbon was designed to reflect how japan celebrates “Unity in Diversity” and “Innovation from Harmony.”

How much are medals from the Olympics worth?

The gold medal containing 6 grams of gold and mostly silver comes to around $830, while a silver medal comes in at around $445. A bronze medal is worth in the range of $2 to $2.50. But of course, they are priceless to the athletes!

What are Olympics medals made of?

Gold medals are made of more than 6 grams of gold plating on pure silver
Silver medals are 100% pure silver
Bronze medals are red brass (95% copper and 5% zinc)

How much do Olympic medals weigh?

Medals from the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games range in weight from just under 1 pound (bronze) to 1 pound, 2 ounces (gold). That gives you a real-world idea how much medals weigh, but since metal is typically measured in grams, here’s the exact weight for gold, silver and bronze medals:

—Gold medals from the Tokyo Sumer Olympics weigh about 556g.
—Silver medals from the Tokyo Sumer Olympics weigh about 550g
—Bronze medals from the Tokyo Sumer Olympics weigh about 450g