Why do athletes bite their gold medals at the Olympics?
- Olympic athletes are often seen biting their medals after a fresh victory against an opponent
- Traditionally, gold medals were bitten into to check their authenticity
- Athletes might just be following their predecessors in doing the same
Olympic athletes are often seen biting their medals after a fresh victory against an opponent.
A look back at history might explain why.
According to an explainer in Golden Circulate, gold medals were only introduced in the Olympics in 1904. Prior to that, athletes who were in the first place received silver medals, and those who came second received bronze. If not medals, the winners were awarded trophies or cups.
The medals made of solid gold debuted in 1904, but these did not have a long life. They were only given until the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics, after which World War 1 began and gold became scarce. To meet the requirement of medals, alloys were mixed with barely six grams of gold, consisting of silver and copper. This is how medals are presently made.
Traditionally, biting metals was a way to test their authenticity. In the late 1800s in California, people would bite into gold to test if it was real. If the bite left indentation marks on the medal, it was believed to be authentic.
Today, however, medals are not made of solid gold, so the bite-method to test its authenticity does not work. Athletes might just be following tradition by biting their medals.
Another reason behind the practice could be that they are simply emulating former victors and champions, such as Michael Phelps and Simone Biles, who did the same when they won, according to the Golden Circulate explainer.
It is also not uncommon for photographers to request athletes to bite their medals. For instance, David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, told NBC News in 2012 that the sportspersons just listen to photographers who need the popular shot.
A similar incident happened with Olympians Natalie Coughlin and Dawn Harper-Nelson in 2016, when they were asked to bite into their medals after winning. Coughlin had said, "They wear you down and they make you bite it."