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Olympics Trivia: Why Do Olympians Bite Their Medals

Usain Bolt biting his medal at the Olympics
Usain Bolt biting his medal at the Olympics
ANALYST
Modified 04 Feb 2021
Feature

People who watch the Olympics must have noticed a very bizarre trend of Olympians biting their winning hardware which is their medals. However, no one knows the hidden reason behind it. Well, the reason is an interesting mystery that even many Olympic historians don't understand. 

History

Back in the Ancient Olympics, only one person used to be crowned an Olympics champion. There were no silver and bronze medals. At this time, athletes competed not for possession but for the honor. However, the Olympics spirit was revived nearly 1500 years later. 

In 1896, at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Olympians were awarded a silver medal with the bronze medal going to the second place.

Later in 1904, Olympians were awarded solid gold medals slightly smaller in size. 

This practice was followed until 1912 when the onset of the First World War put an end to the gold rush. Currently, the composition, size, and shape are determined by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

In fact, you will be shocked and surprised to hear that gold medals are made up of silver and plated with 6g of gold. Sometimes, the IOC even uses some different materials. For example, 10 out of the 200 gold medals awarded at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 were set with pieces of the Chelyabinsk meteorite which crashed in a lake in Russia. This gave 10 Olympians a unique cosmic treat. 

Another example are the medals of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that are scheduled to take place in 2021. It is the first ever Olympics in history in which medals are made up of recycled metals. 

The monetary value of a metal in an Olympics medal alone is around $500. However, it is priceless for the Olympians who manage to win them. 

Famous medals of prominent Olympians have been sold for more than a million dollars at various auctions. For example, the medal worn by Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics was sold at a price of around $1.5 million. 

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Reason why Olympians bite their medals

The tradition of biting into medals goes back to merchants who would bite their coins to make sure that there aren't any forgeries. The reason behind this is that back in those days gold was alloyed with other harder metals to make it harder.

Therefore, if biting the coin left teeth marks and it was hard, the merchant would know that the coin was fake with lead or some other metal mixed with it. Conversely, biting a soft medal can reveal its purity as gold is a malleable metal. 

These days, the biting has become as much a part of the Olympics tradition as the medals themselves. The Olympians pose as if they are biting the medals just for the camera. An interesting example is of the American swimmer, Ryan Lochte, who chipped his tooth on a silver medal back in 2010. 

Sometimes, many Olympians bite their medals because the photographers incessantly ask them to do it at the time of the photoshoot. 

Published 04 Feb 2021, 22:42 IST
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