Why Do Athletes Bite Their Medals? Athletes bite their medals primarily because it has become an iconic shot requested by photographers and the media. The biting of the medals also implies that they’re real because gold, silver, and copper are soft enough for someone to bite into and leave a mark. Most Olympic athletes don’t actually bite their medals.
“It’s become an obsession with the photographers,” David Wallechinsky, the president of the International Society of Olympic Historians and co-author of, “The Complete Book of the Olympics,” told CNN in 2012. “I think they look at it as an iconic shot, as something that you can probably sell. I don’t think it’s something the athletes would probably do on their own.”
Another reason athletes bite their medals is to prove the metals are authentic. Gold, for example, is a soft and malleable metal that a tooth is capable of indenting. Back in the day, people would bite into gold to prove it was real. The athletes are implying that their medals are real by acting like they’re biting into them.
Human teeth are harder than gold but softer than pyrite, according to the Mohs Hardness Scale, which categorizes how easily minerals scratch. This means a quick gnaw to real gold would actually leave an indentation. A hard chew of pyrite, meanwhile, might damage your teeth. With that said, Olympic gold medals aren’t made of just gold.
Olympic gold medals are actually just 1.34 percent gold. The rest is sterling silver, ABC News reports. And much of it is recycled silver this time around, which makes the 2016 Rio medals “the most sustainable ever made,” according to Forbes magazine contributor Anthony DeMarco (via ABC News). DeMarco says the materials that make up a “gold” medal are worth $564.
Winning athletes would be better served to make sure the checks they receive for coming out on top don’t bounce. Along with their gold medals, Olympic winners get $25,000 prizes.
All Olympic medals are at least 60mm in diameter and 3mm thick. The medals are usually circular and indicate the Olympic Games where they were awarded. The medals also indicate which event they were awarded in. The Olympic hosts are responsible for minting the medals for all the sports.
This wasn’t always the case though, as medals weren’t handed out at the first Olympic Games. Instead, olive wreaths, known as kotinos, were handed out to the winners of each discipline. These wreaths/branches were taken from an olive tree (kallistefanos elea) by a pais amphithales (a boy whose parents were both alive), using a pair of golden scissors.
After the pais amphithales collected the branches, he brought them to the Temple of Hera, where they were judged by hellanodikai, who were the judges of the Ancient Olympic Games. These judges would then go on to make the wreaths that were handed out to the winners of the Olympic Games. In honor of this ancient tradition, wreaths were handed out at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
The tradition of medals being handed out at the Olympics started with the 1896 games in Athens, Greece. The winner of each discipline won a silver medal and an olive wreath. Second place won a copper medal and third place was awarded a bronze medal.
The first gold medals were awarded at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, United States. These games started the tradition of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places winning the gold, silver, and bronze medals respectively.
Content for this question contributed by Jason Lengemann, resident of Coon Rapids, Carroll and Guthrie counties, Iowa, USA