Why Do Olympic Athletes Bite Their Medals Like Hungry Wolves

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Aug 10 2016
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Every 4 years, there are new athletes to watch and new record ready to be broken. The Olympics is the most prestigious sports event where athletes compete for the gold medal. The gold, silver and bronze winners would stand on the platform, receive their medals, and solemnly listen to the gold medal winner’s national anthem.


Then, the gold medalists would do something quite extraordinary, although by now it’s a familiar pose. Grinning, they would take a bite from the hard-won gold medal hanging around their neck. True, it takes years of grueling training and competition – without guarantee – to nab gold at the Olympics. So, why do the winners immediately chomp on their medals like a pack of hungry wolves?

Hungry - Team USA Women Gymnastics - 2012 London Olympics - Chomping Medal

There’re many school of thoughts as to why Olympians are almost guaranteed to biting their medals as if they haven’t been fed for months. While Olympic historians aren’t sure which athlete started the trend, they believe the athletes nibble their prizes to test the metal – a small tooth mark in a coin assured it consisted of real gold.


If that was the real reason, then the first athlete to do such “biting” should have had started the trend back in 1904, 1908 or 1912 Olympic – more than 100 years ago. Back then, gold medals were made of solid gold. In Rio 2016 Olympics, a gold medal consists of 6 grams of gold (about 1.2%), with the remainder 494 grams of silver.

1912 Olympics – The Last Year Medals Were Made Of Solid Gold

That’s right, after the two World Wars; somehow people have gotten smarter and realized the value of gold. Therefore, the amount of gold used to make a gold medal is pathetically small. In other words, Olympians who happily bite their medals aren’t doing it to test the authenticity of gold. But why do they still perform such silly acts?


The second school of thought says it was to test how well the medal was plated with 24k gold. Athletes’ teeth could actually scrap off the gold plating, if they try hard enough. Because both gold and silver are rated about 2.5 and 2.7 respectively on Mohs mineral hardness scale, a human’s tooth enamel which is armed with a 5 score could actually make a mark on the medal.

2016 Rio Olympic Medals - Gold, Silver and Bronze

Here’s another bizarre reason why Olympians bite their medals – all the time. It’s the fault of photographers and paparazzi. Twelve-time Olympic medallist Natalie Coughlin summarizes it – “They wear you down and they make you bite it. That’s why you see all those pictures of people biting the medal. They make you do it.”


But why do photographers demand the athletes do such thing? Firstly, some silly photographers might not aware that today’s medals aren’t made from pure gold anymore. Hence, they tell the Olympians to bite it to prove it’s a gold medal. Secondly, there’s only so much you can pose with the medals. So a naughty and funny way to pose is to bite it.

David Moller – Broke His Tooth While Biting Silver Medal

The pose of biting a medal has become an obsession with photographers. It’s an iconic shot that every news media would publish. Biting the medal makes for a more interesting photo than the athletes merely holding them. Perhaps the nasty photographers were waiting to create sensational news, such as when silver medallist David Moeller who broke his tooth while biting his medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics.


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